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On SlutWalk NYC, Occupy Wall Street, and why on Saturday, my sex work has nothing to do with your capitalism

A recent post by my friend Laura on her feminist blog Sugabutta made me all-too-aware of Occupy Wall Street’s interest in joining SlutWalk NYC this Saturday – and I have to admit that despite my proximity to both movements, this declaration made my stomach sink. Laura articulates, the crux of the matter – ‘Movements often come together and we can have interesting conversations across radical claims. But what is most overwhelmingly troubling about this move by Occupy Wall Street is that unfortunately, it looks a lot like co-optation. Why now? What interest has this movement ever shown in radical feminism/womanism? Where was Occupy Wall Street even last week when SlutWalk NYC has been in the works for months? The interests of both movements are like a Venn diagram: obviously they can overlap, but they are not one and the same.’

 

Although I certainly haven’t been directly involved with Occupy Wall Street, I’m currently attending an MA program wherein my classmates are extremely politically engaged – some are part of the core group of planners over at Wall Street, and have been living, to a degree, double lives, trying to fulfill the requirements of an extremely demanding academic program, while attempting to implement the theoretical notions we’ve discussed on the street, dealing with constant planning in always-contingent situations, suffering through arrests, police brutality, and poor weather. I’m not afraid to say I’m proud of them. Although accusations leveled at Occupy Wall Street often suggest their lack of directed focus in terms of an ‘agenda’ or ‘goal’, the to-the-letter democratic processes of the planning committee demonstrate a commitment to an infinite dialogue between proximal bodies, within a collective of marginal beings, even  if people exist in continuing disagreement. The value of Occupy Wall Street is an admirable acknowledgment, and allowance of differences that can lead to the kind of learning that comes from one-to-one engagement. And yet, Wall Street for me feels far away – feels too much like a gesture, feels like it disavows the less-glamourous, but still, slow and steady forms of change.

 

After all, where, in this vast and loose opposition to big letter Capitalism, is a place for women, who’ve fought long and hard to excavate their unique issues from beneath the banner of larger movements? I don’t doubt that oppressions are intersectional and that solidarity is crucial to any kind of resistance. But Slutwalk is a response to a particular incident, a particular issue that strikes so close to the heart of women all over the country, all over the world, that to place it alongside Occupy Wall Street, a movement that purports extreme inclusivity, to the point of refusing to prioritise its demands, would be pushing Slutwalk back into the proverbial closet.

 

How often have we heard that there are ‘more pressing’ issues that ‘affect us all’ that should be addressed before women’s rights? How often have feminist movements been co-opted, and subsumed? This is not about a competition between movements, or marches, on one particular Saturday, but a fundamental difference between one that radically refuses exceptionality and one whose participants have long been considered an ‘exception’ in a detrimental fashion, whose issues have been long ignored, and who now insist on being heard.

 

Every day, I’m struck by the fact that some people will never have to deal with street harassment, or worry that the way they dress could be interpreted as an invitation for violence. Every day, I’m struck with the sense of fear that accompanies my choice of dress (thigh highs, anyone?). Laura tells me, in conversation, about a friend who was verbally harassed while visiting Occupy Wall Street. Although part of the beauty of the movement is dialogue and mutual learning, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a safe space. On the contrary, it’s almost as it the democratic ideal here leaves allowances for differences in opinion that include homophobia, transphobia etc. Although the planning committee has certainly taken steps to educate participants at Wall Street about such issues, about patriarchy and privilege, even organising open-to-all workshops on the subject, Wall Street is still by no means a safe space, and when every issue is of equal standing, ensuring our safety isn’t a priority.

 

SlutWalk is about safely being heard, about being heard in order to insist upon our safety. Sometimes, being heard requires complicity with regulation. In the case of a movement protesting the attitudes of Police Departments across the country towards sexual assault victims,  it is imperative that SlutWalk remain peaceful. As Laura points out, ‘SlutWalk NYC wants to make a claim to safety in public no matter who you are. Occupy Wall Street may not be deliberately looking for a confrontation with the police, but the possibility that the NYPD will react negatively on Saturday is much, much higher with Occupy Wall Street’s presence, and thus the likelihood that this claim to safe spaces and respect is going to be disrespected is much higher, a risk that is unfair to survivors and activists wishing to be involved in SlutWalk NYC’. I should note at this point that it is unclear as to the extent of Occupy Wall Street’s involvement in SlutWalk, if the marches will happen simultaneously, at different times, or if decisions will be made for both movements to march together. Either way, it is crucial that if Occupy Wall Street teams up with SlutWalk, that people be thoroughly briefed, need to be informed as to how they can most cautiously interact with the NYPD – there are legitimate safety issues at hand.

 

On a more personal note, I can’t say enough how important SlutWalk is to me – particularly as a sex worker, whose chances of being assaulted are much higher, with little to no protection from the state because of my legal invisibility. In fact, the only thing the state is likely to do for me is punitive. For me, SlutWalk is so much more than just a protest against sexual assault and victim blaming – it’s about reconfiguring cultural attitudes about women’s choices about their own bodies, their own sexuality. I’ll be the first to admit that the notion of ‘choice’ in relation to sex work, in more than any other context, is a fraught issue – women get into sex work for a myriad of reasons, none simple enough to boil down to just ‘choice’, but none simple enough to be one of the numerous ‘ills of capitalism’ either. So thinking about the choice to do sex work in the context of Occupy Wall Street and its intentionally loose framework of ‘Capitalism is bad’ worries me more than anything else. Sex work is a form of exploiting and intervening within existing system, capitalism included, and I don’t deny that there’s good and bad that goes along with that. Case in point – I was once asked, as an Asian woman, how I deal with being constantly fetishised by white males – my answer was ‘sometimes I make money off it’ and I was only half joking. However, more often than not, sex work is held up as the exemplum of ‘a choice a girl makes when she has no other choices’, something perpetuated by the commodification of women as well as because of difficult financial situations, both engendered by the mechanisms of capitalism.

 

I really, strongly, feel that SlutWalk marching with Occupy Wall Street might encourage the kind of talk about sex work in the context of capitalism that completely undermines the statement sex workers in particular want to make in relation to the safety we deserve. Slutwalk is a way of allowing me to feel out and proud about my own choices despite the danger I have and will continue to experience – I can only hope that our actions will one day be enough to ensure both visibility and protection for sex workers – Slutwalk is an important step. I didn’t wear a short skirt as an invitation for you to rape me. Being a whore isn’t an invitation for you to rape me either – you’re only allowed to do what we agreed upon. Taking your money is not an invitation for you to take whatever you want. This has nothing to do with capitalism.

 

Slutwalk is about my choices, however complex they may be, feeling good about my agency, and insisting that I deserve to be safe. It is not about a bunch of other people telling me how capitalism might or might not have made me do it in the first place. As much as I admire and support the tenacity, intellectual vigour and inclusivity of Occupy Wall Street, it has no place alongside Slutwalk, a movement fighting for the constantly sidelined exception, even if Occupy Wall Street is a movement that purports to be a space of exceptionality within our capitalist society.

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!

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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.

Machismo and Rape: Cultures of Impunity.

A recent assessment from French women’s groups demonstrates that reports of sexual harassment have increased by 600% since Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged assault of a hotel maid and subsequent arrest. Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon.com’s recent piece (republished below) on the correlation between assault and machismo raises some interesting questions about cultural attitudes towards rape and biological tendencies towards sexual aggression – there are certainly no easy, or standard answers that can be pinned down. Gray areas are difficult, and I’m inclined to suggest that Catharine MacKinnon’s definition of rape – that is, any time a woman feels she’s been violated, although not legally tenable, is a good way to open up the floor to the idea that assault is incredibly subjective. More than that, because experiences are based heavily in the cultures in which we exist, culture is a large influence on how someone can feel about their individual incidents.

Practically, however, Nancy’s recent post on a culture of impunity and the NYPD sees that although this is a longer conversation that can be had in time, accountability is still important for a society to enforce and that survivors who come forward must be taken seriously and empathised with, rather than shunned, or blamed. Similarly, persons who have been accused should not be excused as promptly or as easily as certainly as they have been, as the acquittal of officers Morena and Mata has shown – something that a culture of machismo might not be the certain cause of, but definitely encourages. There might not be one cause, or reason for violence against women, or sexual assault, but with that in mind, there is plenty to do to rectify the situation, and that is, to educate, to emphasise how important empathy, and thinking from different points of views are. Let’s start thinking, too, about masculinity and its enforcement through a culture that encourages machismo – cultural expectations are harmful to all, and perhaps we can try to rectify this through open dialogue. That’s the only way to fight a culture of impunity and its relationship to machismo – and recent events show how imperative this is, right now.

Does Machismo Cause Rape?

The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the conspiracy theorizing and sympathy he garnered in response, has reportedly inspired some cultural soul-searching in France. We’re told that French women will no longer put up with the sort of machismo that celebrated a man nicknamed the Great Seducer — not to mention Georges Tron, the junior minister who was accused of sexual assault by two women promptly after DSK’s arrest. At the same time, feminists have been quick to point out that there is a world of difference between womanizing and rape. Seduction is not sexual assault, not even in Puritan America.

All of this raises the question of whether there is an actual connection between an environment of machismo and rape. And that question taps into an even bigger query about how cultural mores influence sexual assault.

I went to Owen D. Jones, a professor of law and biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, for some insight. “Biology and culture are inextricably intertwined,” he told me by email. “While sexual aggression therefore cannot be disentangled from biology, cultures that disinhibit sexual aggression against women will have more of it.” To put it more simply: Cultures that accept sexual aggression against women will have more sexual aggression against women.

That seems incredibly straightforward, doesn’t it? Things get much more complicated, though, when trying to clearly define something like sexual aggression, which encompasses a vast spectrum of behavior. French philosopher Genevieve Fraisse, author of “On Consent,” told the New York Times, “Womanizing and rape are of course two different things,” but, as the Times paraphrases, “on a sliding scale from aggressive courtship to harassment to sexual assault to rape, the borders between each of the categories are much harder to pin down.”

I asked Jones, who has written extensively about how biology and culture influence sexual aggression, whether we might expect rape to be more common in a culture that embraces machismo. “Yes, if all else were equal,” he said. “But … all else is not always equal. For example, just to illustrate, you could have a culture of heavy machismo but also heavier than average penalties.” As it happens, there are more reported rapes per capita in the United States than in France. Of course, cultural mores also influence the reporting rate — which not only skews the data but also can affect the perceived risk to perpetrators, which in turn affects the likelihood of assault.

Jones explains that perps are influenced by the extent to which they think “they’ll actually be reported” and, if so, “investigated and charged.” There’s also their perception of the likelihood “that jurors might convict, as well as an estimate of for how long, if at all, a perpetrator might be sentenced. ” He says, “Although no one is suggesting that sexual transgressors think it through like a calculating machine, it is likely the case that the holistic assessment of how risky it is to assault someone is — for better or worse — affected by a wide variety of cultural factors.”

On the one hand, it seems only natural to assume that culture would have a significant impact on sexual violence. On the other, it can seem a disturbing excuse for inexcusable behavior; just consider the recent report blaming child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in part on the sexual revolution of the ’60s, or the claim by Roman Polanski’s wife that his “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor” was simply a product of the “sexual liberty and permissiveness” of the time. Then again, what purported explanation for sexual violence isn’t in some way unsettling? Perhaps the most disturbing answer of all is that there isn’t any one cause.

This article initially appeared on Salon.com and s republished with permission. Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter. More: Tracy Clark-Flory

The Line Needs YOU: seeking MANAGING EDITOR for WIYL blog.

I’ve been working here at the Line for some time now, but I’ve really only recently been struck hard by the fact that, well, The Line Campaign is important. With every screening we do, and every person we touch, we open the floor to new voices, opinions and increments of effort towards winning the fight. And when I say ‘the fight’ I don’t just mean an end to violence against women, but ending preconceptions about sex, desire and relationships – because things just aren’t that simple. This is is a forum to complicate, a channel to different points of view.

A few weeks ago, I read about the Long Island murders, and it was written that someone said – ‘when a reporter asked, ‘What can sex workers do to prevent violence?’ I said, ‘Well, maybe people could not kill us.” I cried because she told a story about a feeling that I felt too. I realised then that I joined The Line as an intern last year not just because I wanted to share my story, but because I wanted to help others tell theirs. When Latoya Peterson in her interview talked about bringing feminism to different, other worlds, it rang true for me, but this certainly wasn’t the case for others. That kind of difference is what makes this place unique – Nancy’s commitment to storytelling rings true and has been the reason such a diversity of voices have an opportunity to contribute to better understanding how and why we should care about these issues – whether reproductive justice, street harassment or sexual assault. That’s what this blog is for, a space where each person’s words, however arranged, matter. It’s important that it continue.

I’ve learned so much and had so much fun as managing editor of the WIYL blog over the past couple of months! Unfortunately, as I move on to graduate school, and begin pursuing other projects in community building in the literary arts, I’ll have a limited amount of time – and have had to make the sad decision to leave my post here.

And so, we’re looking for our next managing editor – someone invested in listening to stories and making sure they get them out there for others to read! We’re looking for you to become a leader in this community, to rally passion, relate it to our message, and foster always, more conversation in social media.

Responsibilities will include:

- managing a team of bloggers and creating their schedule

- finding news stories and relevant events to suggest to bloggers for coverage

- working to ensure a steady flow of content, on schedule

- editing and copyediting posts before publication

- researching news sources and ensuring you stay on top of current events

- keeping everyone excited and ‘on message’

Qualifications:

- enthusiasm, patience and creativity

- familiarity with wordpress and social media (twitter, facebook, myspace, tumblr)

- an open mind to all kinds of stories, opinions and experiences

- ability to juggle multiple tasks under deadline

- ability to communicate clearly and effectively, both verbally and in writing

- ability to work independently and with minimal supervision

- comfortable working on outreach to guest bloggers

- passionate, dedicated, and hoping to have fun

I can’t recommend working with our team enough, because stories are important, and I believe that if we keep telling them relentlessly, we’re sure to be heard.

If you’re interested, please contact Nancy and me at thelinemovie [at] gmail [dot] com, with ATTN: Trisha Low in the subject line. Provide us with a sense of your experience, your background, and why you want to help. No official requirements insisted upon apart from strong organisational ability and desire to stay current and keep delivering great content. This position provides a small stipend, but is rewarding and provides opportunities to work with activists, artists and youth. Managing editor can be located anywhere and work is estimated to be 5-7 hours a week.

Badass-Activist Friday presents ANDRE BLACKMAN of Pulse + Signal

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

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

Here’s Andre Blackman of Pulse + Signal!

Andre Profile Shot

Andre Blackman is an agent of change and innovation within the public health community. He is very passionate about the role of new media, mobile technology and other useful innovations as it relates to health communications and the improvement of public health in general.

Andre has been a featured speaker/commentator on a number of Public Health 2.0 related conversations around HIV/AIDS, mobile health, health disparities and new forms of health journalism. He has worked alongside organizations such as the Black AIDS Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Dept. of Health and Human Services to educate and promote innovation around important health initiatives and opportunities.

Pulse + Signal postulates that social media, mobile technologies and integrated offline engagement are becoming very necessary to create the effective dialogues needed for lasting impact. Can you tell us a little about why, and how, particularly in terms of talking about healthy sexual relationships, sex education and violence against women?

Absolutely, the world where we are living in now – despite having a heavy investment with technology – is still dependent on our social & very human interactions. This absolutely includes our relationships with loved ones and sexual health. The tools such as social media & mobile technology are just that: tools that help us stay in touch, communicate and manage information.

For example, I first learned about The Line Campaign after attending the Sex::Tech conference last year and getting connected with Nancy in person (offline). Then I started following the Campaign on Twitter and have been connected there virtually, staying on top of relevant news (social media). Nowadays, when I see information around filmmaking or sexual health, I send a direct message on Twitter to you all to make sure learn about it as well (real time valuable information). The awareness + action that gets spurred when all of these factors come together can be very powerful for combating tragic issues such as violence against women. These tools and channels have opened up doors that no longer can easily be closed.

Considering the use of technology is an economic privilege, to some extent, do you think the online activism that has been lauded as being far-reaching in fact necessary marginalises certain groups?

The issue of the digital divide has been ongoing for some time now – however with the advancement of mobile technology and how mobile phones are getting into the hands of most everyone, the privilege barrier is starting to decrease around technology. This is especially true if we are talking about people of color/underserved populations. The Pew Internet Project has a ton of research data on usage and access issues for various demographics. I think the bigger issue is about digital literacy and making sure that those who want to get plugged in actually know how and where they can get resources on joining the bigger campaign – I think this is the root of any sort of marginalization in the digital activism landscape.

Can you talk a little more about your experiences as a man of colour and an activist? Was there a time where you felt your issues were being overlooked by the greater majority, and how your identity and personal experiences play into your work? How do you think it informs your work from a gendered perspective?

I do remember the first time that I was overlooked unfairly – the situation has been undoubtedly seared into my memory. As one of a few people of color in the high school I attended (initially), I took part in the science fair and was excited because science was my passion then. Knowing some NIH scientists I made an effort to do something pretty impactful and started doing actual lab work around genetics. When the time came around for judging of the projects – I did not place anywhere, not even an honorable mention. It struck me as highly odd until my science teacher mentioned that the judges didn’t feel like I could do this level of science and that I probably had the work done for me. It was “above my intelligence” you could say. From that moment on I realized that sometimes things don’t always go your way because you’re smart enough or passionate enough. That moment also taught me to work even harder at things that I want to succeed at even when others (or even myself) tell me that it can’t be done.

This really became clearer after going to school for public health in college – I didn’t have that many male colleagues in my classes (I was the only one in several) and being African American set me apart even further. It seemed as if public health had a certain “face” to the field and it gave me pause to think about where this field is going as well as its faults. Much of what I’m advocating for these days in an opening up of the public health field to better ideas to improve the health of communities. Instead of one-off events in low income communities, we should be working alongside the community to develop sustainable plans. Also, incorporating other fields to come up with designs and technologies that can truly give the field an effective facelift. Diverse thinking is what I’m about because of those experiences.

Do you think healthy relationships and sexual education play into public health concerns? Do you think is is important that they do?

Public health absolutely has to do with healthy relationships, especially since it brings together issues such as mental health and sexual health. This is what I was getting at when I was discussing what public health should look like – making sure that people understand how to have healthy relationships plays a large role as to how well they do at work, how they take care of their families, how they treat themselves on a daily basis, etc. It impacts everything in the long run, which is why relationships/sexual health education is so important in the public health world. The field stems from the prevention angle so the more we can educate people, the better we can prevent them from having to be hospitalized, needing medication, etc.

Do you feel that grassroots activist organisations and non-profits are taking full advantage of the techological tools available to them? Where do you see these methods and processes going in the future?

I think the non-profit world is booming right now as far as the resources that are available now with online tools and social media. Organizations for a cause are now able to grow their donors, fellow activists and rally them around events/initiatives that they care about. The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) is a brilliant source for information on how to do everything under the digital sun for a grassroots activist group or nonprofit to fulfill their mission.

In the future I see these organizations being better at being available for people to plug into as well as finding their fans, volunteers, activists. Social technologies are getting better at connecting with two aspects that I think will be even more important down the line: local & mobile.

Are there any drawbacks to technological tools, do you think they’re distancing or can be overused?

Just like any other tool (online or otherwise), they can be abused and improperly managed. Just as there are several positives about social media, if used incorrectly, can cause unwanted attention and damaged reputations. We’ve all seen situations where an individual is using a Twitter application managing multiple accounts and tweets from the wrong one – usually with a message that is inconsistent with that account’s focus, to put it gently. In my opinion though, the positives outweigh the negatives and making sure you use the tools wisely is important. Stick with a few that you see working for your cause.

How do you think we, as young activists and students can best make use of our resources to instigate and create change?

When I talk to students about jumping into a career, I usually advise them to take part in groups and organizations through internships while still in school. This is pretty much the best way to understand roles and responsibilities as well as making use of the tools on a daily basis. That way, you’ll gain a better understanding of how to use these resources to fulfill your own causes while making great relationships and contacts.

Also, go ahead and start writing for a blog – either one that already exists around your subject area or start your own. Don’t be afraid to ask to write a guest blog post or reach out to leaders involved in your cause. With these tools and resources, the barriers to access individuals and groups are very low, so take advantage of it!

You can find Andre’s thoughts on public health and innovation through his blog, Pulse + Signal and via Twitter as @mindofandre.

Today we take a stand: End rape in war.

Courtesy of UNHCR, 2009

Courtesy of UNHCR, 2009

If anyone ever listened to be blather on about my approach to activism, you’ve also listened to me talk about how there is no ‘right way’ to do things, that there just can’t be. People have to come to terms with their discomfort with different issues before they figure out how they’re best poised to act individually. And here at the Line, we’re all about exploring the grey areas, and teasing out the nuances of singular situations. But when it comes to the relationship between sex, power, and violence, particularly as a tool in times of conflict, there just can’t be any wiffling around the subject. For us to make a difference, we have to take a stand, in solidarity, to intensify efforts to end sexual violence against all people, particularly women and girls, in situations of armed conflict and other crises. Sexual violence is an unacceptable human rights violation and as a weapon of war in establishment of power, is unforgivable.

Just the facts, ma’am:

In numerous conflicts worldwide, rape is not only used to destroy lives, but to to undermine the welfare and recovery of entire communities.

Did you know that up 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide?
Did you know that over 64,000 women were raped in Sierra Leone?
Did you know that over 40,000 women were raped in Bosnia-Herzegovina?

And so, enough is enough.

Thursday is our day of action against sexual violence in conflict. The Line stands with the Nobel Womens’ Initiative in their effort today to target governments, encouraging them to give this topic the attention it deserves. Together, we can ensure an end to impunity and insist on supporting survivors in efforts to heal and rebuild their lives and communities.

Today, Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi and Mairead Maguire will be standing together to end rape in war. We urge you to follow suit in your home country and join us virtually.

Following the unprecedented conference in Montebello, Quebec where they hosted over 100 women from around the world to discuss strategies to address sexual violence, the Laureates will be TAKING A STAND in Ottawa – addressing Canadian parliamentarians and urging them to take the lead to end rape in war. Follow along the live-tweet of a panel discussion on May 26 from 8:30 to 10 am EST from Ottawa, Canada. The panel will feature three Nobel Laureates and prominent activists from Sweden, Kenya and Canada, moderated by journalist Susan Riley of The Ottawa Citizen. We will be live-tweeting using #endrapeinwar at on our Twitter page, and taking questions from online followers.

Stand with us!

We at the Line encourage you to take a stand with us and the Nobel Women’s Initiative online, because this issue is non-negotiable:

Go to the UN Action Stop Rape Now website and download the sample letter asking your elected official for increased action against sexual violence in conflict – and send it! Tell your government you are TAKING A STAND!

Write a blog post, tweet or share on facebook. We will be posting videos and live-tweeting throughout the day – letting you know what ACTION we are taking!

Make sure to check the NWI blog and follow the #endrapeinwar hashtag. Use it in your posts – lets make it trend

Make sure you let us know when you have TAKEN A STAND by:

sending us an email (web@nobelwomensinitiative.org)
tweeting: #itookastand #endrapeinwar
or letting us know on our website

Join us today. Together – we can move the earth.

Badass-Activist Friday presents MATT IGNACIO of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center

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

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

So without further ado…

Here’s Matt Ignacio of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center (NNAAPC)

CoH Group Photo April 2011

Matt Ignacio, M.S.S.W., is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, a federally recognized Native American Tribe located in Southern Arizona. As a public health consultant, he has over 16 years experience promoting sexual health and drug user health advocacy, working mostly with minority populations. He most recently worked for the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center (NNAAPC) as the Director of Training and Development. Most recently he graduated as a fellow from the Center for Progressive Leadership Fellowship Program – Colorado State office in 2010.

You work specifically with HIV prevention and queer health issues – can you speak a little bit about how consent, sexual assault come into your work?

When working with Native American, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian (herein ‘Native’) communities, issues of: sexual assault, consent/rape, and domestic violence certainly come into play when trying to promote sexual health and wellness. Assault, rape, and violence are NOT traditional Native values. These acts can create tremendous amounts of shame and stigma for the victim. As a result, these acts often go unreported. Furthermore, on some of the Reservation and rural communities I’ve worked with, reporting these crimes to law enforcement not only negatively impacts the victim, but also negatively impacts immediate and extended family members as well. In some situations, it can also negatively impact the entire community! A way to address these issues is to provide culturally-specific education and empowerment opportunities, as well as providing culturally relevant resources and linkages to care.


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

My experiences and identity are critical to my activism. Most of us have experienced some form of discrimination – the color of our skin, our sexual orientation/identity, where we are from, how we were raised, etc… I’ve certainly experienced and witnessed discrimination. Rather than sit back and be silent, I’ve had opportunities to be mentored by, work with and befriend some very outspoken Native leaders. They’ve all instilled the value of helping those most in need and to speak up and speak out for folks who do not have a voice. At the end of the day, my hope is that I’ve helped others do the same.

Sexual health is important for all, but what are specific problems that Native Americans, particularly those who identify as queer run into regarding education? What are the barriers to them speaking up, or getting access to the information they need? (Do you think that the dialogue around sex education can marginalize the experiences of minority youth?)

To a large extent, there continues to be a lot of stigma towards queer-identifying individuals in Native communities. Historically, every community member (gay, straight, etc…) had a value – a place or a role within the community. Today, for whatever reason, albeit historical trauma(s), colonization and/or adopting religious values – things have changed. This often makes it difficult to educate all Native community members in an honest and engaging way. As you can imagine, it is very difficult for those who are queer to access correct and life-affirming information. Interestingly, over the past decade, I’ve seen amazing Nation-wide movements by queer-identified Native people through community-based organizing, HIV/AIDS prevention efforts and political involvement and investment. It’s an exciting time!

Tell us about some people, activists, artists, writers, who inspire you, and how!

I’m inspired by and try to learn from leaders who fearlessly take action and lead by example. By no means am I fearless. In fact, it’s something I have to work on all the time. My parents and relatives are also prime examples of people who inspire me. I’m always fascinated by their stories of survival, resilience and humor. There’s a lot to learn from our own histories.

What have been the most rewarding and frustrating experiences working to advance getting appropriate, and culturally relevant information to ethnically and culturally diverse groups and minorities?

Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had advancing culturally relevant education is when individuals take the information I’ve presented to them, such as sexual health information, and then share it with their families or larger community. If I can play a small role in starting a dialogue that otherwise would not take place between friends, family and community – I’ve done my job. As far as ‘frustrating experiences,’ I suppose the length of time it takes to create lasting positive change. As progressively-minded people, we want change overnight – or at least I do! I have to remind myself to slow-down and learn from the process, not just from the outcomes.

What are the best things we as young readers, writers and activists do to ensure our sex education is meeting our needs and those of others? Any words of advice?

For myself, I force myself to ask the difficult questions and support those with little or no voice. We can’t meet our own sexual health needs if we don’t ask the difficult questions to our educators and/or health care professionals. Second, there is strength in numbers! Supporting those who are often ignored or overlooked is incredibly powerful, meaningful and socially responsible.

Badass-Activist Friday presents LATOYA PETERSON of Racialicious

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

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

So without further ado…

Here’s Latoya Peterson of Racialicious !

Latoya3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that that’s off my chest…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

300_Nancy Bio Pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This interview initially appeared at The Pixel Project

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