Badass-Activist Friday presents JESSICA SKOLNIK of SlutWalk Chicago!

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 Jessica Skolnik of SlutWalk Chicago!

Jessica Skolnik is a Chicago activist, community organizer, musician, blogger, zinester, and all-around bad-ass.  Together with Jaime Keiles, Jessica is co-organizing SlutWalk Chicago, an international grassroots response to widespread victim-blaming and rape culture, on Saturday, June 4th at the Thompson Center Plaza.  Jessica is also an enthusiastic member of the Sexual Health Education to End Rape (SHEER) Collective, a new survivor centered, sex-positive coalition in Chicago, and the resident shredder of synth in the post-punk band Population.  Jessica’s spent the last ten years organizing several communities for sexual assault survivors and administering an educational workshop on enthusiastic consent, rape culture and issues of sexual assault within small communities, specifically within punk communities.

What’s your philosophy of anti-violence?

Violence is not just personal but structural. We live in a society that glorifies violence to the point where many of us are inured to it. I see interpersonal violence as often encouraged and exacerbated by a struggle for control and power that stem from structural inequalities (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc). Yes, we need to educate ourselves as to how to deal with specific and personal incidents, but we will not seriously change this society toward nonviolent ends until the entire playing field is leveled.

How did you become involved in anti-violence work and community organizing?

I am a survivor of multiple incidents of sexual assault and relationship violence. Combine that with growing up in DC in the early ‘90s with parents who encouraged my burgeoning interest in the DIY punk scene, and you have a recipe for a young riot grrrl who learned everything she could from the older activists at Positive Force and other activist collectives. I read as much as I could, learned as much as I could, and listened as much as I could.

Eventually I realized that activism would help me heal and allow me to help others. I realized that healing from trauma doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and connecting with other survivors is part of that process. I drew from my academic background in labor history and cultural studies, and I started thinking about how I could use my knowledge of organizing and education to change the dominant culture.

One of the sexual assaults happened when I was barely 13.  I brought the incident to my counselor at school who encouraged me to report it to the police. It was one of the most dehumanizing experiences I’ve ever encountered with bureaucracy — and that’s saying something. They questioned me in a way that implied that I was at fault — I didn’t behave like a “good girl,” I wasn’t dressed “correctly,” I was sexually active at a young age and I had “led them on…” It was as far from the myth of the supportive, understanding police from Law and Order: SVU as possible, and there was no follow-up on my report.

After I digested the pain and dealt with the feeling of being violated all over again by people who were supposed to help me, I realized that traditional structures may not be the answer for everyone. I decided that I would spend the rest of my life involved with alternative community organizing by other survivors and active advocates.

I’m really interested in the strategy and skills behind working within subversive counter cultures to create culturally relevant narratives of sexual violence. What strategies do you use in your workshops to help create punk communities free from rape and sexual violence? What are some obstacles to anti-violence work specific to punk culture?  Are there specific persistent attitudes or beliefs that have helped to normalize rape within punk communities?

The first strategy I use in my workshop model is to systematically debunk myths and narratives specific to punk culture, as well as the ones we’re more familiar with in mainstream culture, and examine how they are all connected. Punk communities are obviously not immune to rape culture, as much as we’d like to think we are.

One of the most pervasive myths about sexual violence in punk communities is that it’s not supposed to happen there, and that myth in and of itself is an enormous obstacle to ending violence. There’s this narrative that just because we’ve created this culture and community where the line between consumer and artist is less demarcated, where we control creativity as much as possible, that we’ve also created a world where oppression doesn’t exist. Anyone who’s spent even a cursory amount of time in the punk scene knows that’s not true. All the -isms and phobias from mainstream culture are still present, they just emerge a little differently – which makes them more difficult to recognize.

One thing that always baffled me is that, inevitably, when you bring up an allegation of sexual assault within the punk community, you’ll get an echo of voices asking why the person making the allegation didn’t call the cops. There’s a long history of punks resisting police brutality and police culture — it speaks volumes to me that the only time you’ll ever find punks trust the word of the police over the word of a fellow community member is when someone makes an allegation of sexual assault.

Nobody wants to believe that a member of a small, close community could perpetrate such a horrible act. There’s an immediate defensiveness that arises because the allegations are so serious. But violence happens at fests, within collectives, between activists and musicians… It’s hard to talk about rape when many of us don’t feel as if we have the right vocabulary for it. Regardless of our cultural participation in it, we still live in a world without adequate training about what consent looks like, what crossing that line looks like, and we need to trust the word of survivors. Yes, false accusations happen, unfortunately, but very rarely. The more we learn about consent and how to talk about it, the more equipped we are to support one another without immediately assuming that a survivor isn’t telling the truth.

How did you end up co-organizing SlutWalk Chicago?  What do you have planned for SlutWalk in Chicago, and what do you hope the event will accomplish?

I first read about SlutWalk on Tumblr through various feminist blogs as the Toronto organizers were putting together their event. I was outraged and frustrated by the persistence of this institutional attitude that I’d encountered when I reported to the police in 1992, the attitude that a survivor is responsible for an assault if she or he doesn‘t act in certain socially prescribed ways. I was inspired by all the photos and reportage from the Toronto event, and when Jamie Keiles (my co-organizer) posted on her blog that she was going to take on the challenge of organizing a satellite SlutWalk here in Chicago, I didn’t even think twice about emailing her to offer my organizing help.

We’re planning a really wonderful event here in Chicago — not just a march but a rally with live music, speakers, tabling by some of our ally organizations, and possibly other forms of entertainment. We’re looking into burlesque and comedy at the moment. We want this to be a chance to meet up with likeminded folks similarly interested in dismantling the culture of shame. SlutWalk will be a celebration of the work the sex-positive rape crisis and survivors’ community has done to change that victim-blaming dynamic and a celebration of our future potential as a united movement going forward.

We also have two after-parties planned, as we’d like to keep the momentum going from the event through the day. We’ve organized a patio party for directly after the walk at Zella. My band happens to be playing a show that night with two other great bands, Martial Canterel and Anatomy of Habit, and that’s our official after-after-party. There’s more information on our website as our plans unfold!

Has the reception for SlutWalk Chicago been pretty positive?  I’ve heard a lot of anti-violence activists question the use of the pejorative word “slut” for an event that’s supposed to be empowering… How do you respond to that?

I’m actually amazed by how positive most of the feedback has been — I was expecting a few more trolls, to be honest! Maybe they just haven’t come out of the woodwork yet, who knows. I credit the original SlutWalk in Toronto for paving the way and opening a dialogue.

The response from the anti-violence activist community has been roughly what I expected: positive but cautious. I was actually dubious about the use of the word “slut” when I read about the initial event and started organizing this one. At one point in my life, I was very much invested in reclaiming the word for myself, since I had been labeled a slut by others and found that reclaiming my enjoyment of sex was personally enormously healing. But that’s a goal I’ve found less personally profound over the years.

SlutWalk Chicago’s stance is that whether you find it personally empowering to reclaim the word “slut” or not, we stand with you. Using the SlutWalk name doesn’t just ally and align us with the work done by the amazing organizers in Toronto and all of the other satellites around the world, it really gives us a unique opportunity to talk about how sexual double standards and slut-shaming are cornerstones of rape culture and how a sex-positive attitude ties into the dialogue about consent, and I think that is enormously valuable.

What can our readers do to get involved with SlutWalk?  And do you have any advice for starry-eyed activists in-the-making?

Email us at slutwalkchicago@gmail.com to get on our volunteers’ mailing list. Ally your organization, business or blog with us! Print out the posters we have available and hang ’em everywhere. Invite your friends and post all over your social media about SlutWalk, connect with us on any number of social networking sites (all linked from our main website).  Enter our DIY SlutWalk poster contest!  We’re organizing a poster-making session before the walk, details are on our website.

Show up on Saturday, June 4th at the Thompson Center plaza (100 W. Randolph) for the SlutWalk step-off at noon! And if you are so moved, organize your own SlutWalk satellite in your city!

To activists-in-the-making: whatever cause and perspective you align yourself with, there is an enormous wealth of community resources and a world of movements to connect with, both locally and globally.  Before you strike out on your own trying to build a movement from the ground up, check out the work other folks are doing and see how you can get involved or build off of it. Listen and learn, as well as contributing your energy and ideas!

Remember to take care of yourself at every step of the process. Personal healing and growth are as much a part of an activist’s journey as larger community and cultural change. Everything is connected.

The Line Campaign is proud to ally with SlutWalk Chicago. We support SlutWalk’s mission to promote education about sexual assault and to make it known loud and clear that victims of violence are never the ones at fault and no one asks to be raped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

300_Nancy Bio Pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This interview initially appeared at The Pixel Project

Sexual violence on campus: Entertaining violence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harrison’s article below

Sexual violence on campus: Entertaining violence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So without further ado…

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, without further ado…

Here’s Emily Heroy of Gender Across Borders!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie Sheen: A Small Feminist Victory?

Confession: I am hooked on any and all news and stories related to Charlie Sheen. I can’t help it. As a moth is drawn to the light and then subsequently zapped to death, so am I strangely drawn to celebrity shenanigans, and Charlie Sheen’s meltdown is to me, well, the World’s Largest Lamp, which Google tells me is an actual thing. Anyways, I’ve genuinely reading tweets and updates about tiger blood and winning and warlocks and other vaguely fantastical references that could only originate from a man who is clearly so wired on cocaine and ego as to combine the imagery inspired by a 13-year-old boy’s gaming collection with an overtly zealous political candidate’s rhetoric (“My violent torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option”…what?). That said, when Trisha asked me to cover Mr. Sheen for WIYL, I was a little confused. Charlie Sheen’s downward spiral is a feminist issue? Should I not be following this man’s downward spiral? Is it wrong for me to enjoy his interviews and rants? Feeling guilty and dirty about my apparent feminist sins, I did some deep, deep soul-searching (okay, I watched a few episodes of Gilmore Girls), and realized that The Sheening, Bruce Springsheen, and any other Sheen-related pun you find appropriate, is not a feminist issue. It’s a feminist victory.

That said, the pleasure I derived from Keeping Up With the Kardasheenan was actually a healthy dose of schadenfreude. Charlie Sheen is a character. He’s unintentionally hilarious. He’s also a total asshole. Sheen has allegedly threatened to kill five women, has shot at and strangled his girlfriends, and once beat a woman for not having sex with him. It’s darkly enjoyable to see a man who has abused so many women in the past now be openly mocked by the public, and to witness his breakdown and consequent firing from Two and a Half Men. What goes around, comes around, Justsheen Timberlake.

Similarly, the public reaction to Sheen’s actions- the domestic abuse, the coke binges, the bevy of porn stars for hire- has given feminists reason to celebrate. Firstly, Sheen’s history of violence against women shows this true, misogynistic colors, but his actions alone do not a feminist issue make; it is society’s reaction to these happenings that should provoke our response. In this case, while Sheen faced no legal trouble, his violent acts have been publicly decried; tiger blood references may be ubiquitous, but no one is celebrating or giving Sheen a free pass for abusing these women. Also noticeably lacking in the media coverage of Sheengate is slut-shaming. Bloggers and commentators have often remarked how male celebrities continue to find work and slip fairly quietly under the radar when they find themselves in the midst of drug abuse and generally reckless behavior, while female celebrities are collectively scolded and reprimanded; the classic example given here is Robert Downey Jr. v. Lindsay Lohan. The Last of the Mosheencans isn’t exactly how I pictured arriving gender equality, but I’ll take what I can get. Charlie Sheen’s latest escapade, the one that put him in this media mess, involved too much cocaine, and a house full of porn stars that were paid for their services. Surprisingly, there has been limited slut-shaming involved in this affair; the general reaction has been one of “I can’t believe Charlie Sheen hired a bunch of hookers, that perv, what was he thinking?” and less of “I can’t believe those porn stars had sex with Charlie Sheen for money! The nerve of those wenches!” While there has been some fascination and speculation about these women, particularly about Kacey Jordan, who claimed she was promised a Bentley in the throes of passion (which isn’t “slutty” at all, just gullible), the focus has not been on their consensual choice of occupation, but on the legally questionable pastimes of one Charlie Sheen.

Granted, these signs of progress of depiction and treatment of women, and violence against women, in the media are small victories. It’s encouraging to see that people are laughing at Charlie Sheen, not with him, as he holds a knife to his girlfriend’s neck and holds a prostitute hostage in a bathroom. To quote Mr. Sheen, we may very well be on our way to, duh, winning.

Badass-Activist Friday presents AIMEE THORNE-THOMSEN of Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice

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…

Our first activist in this series is the admirable Aimee Thorne-Thomsen of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and previously of The Pro-Choice Public Education Project!

ARTT photo

Aimee Thorne-Thomsen brings her passion and extensive experience in coalition-building, leadership development and communications to the reproductive justice movement. Currently
she serves as the Interim Executive Director for the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, dedicated to supporting LGBTI organizations around the world working for racial, economic and social justice. Before that, Aimée was the Executive Director of the Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP), where her work focused on creating spaces for and elevating the voices of young women, transgender and gender non-confirming young people in sexual and reproductive health and rights. Under her leadership, PEP completed 2 ground-breaking research reports on young women of color on sexual and reproductive health and rights. She has spoken around the country these issues, their impact on young women, and women of color.

The Pro-Choice Public Education Project is dedicated to building an inclusive reproductive justice movement by raising the voices of young women, transgender, and gender non-conforming young people – something incredibly admirable and necessary if the movement is going to have longevity in the future. Can you talk about why you think there are certain groups of women whose voices are less audible, and if the feminist movement is doing enough to ensure they are heard?

I think ultimately it’s about power and oppression. Young women, especially young women of color and LBTQ folks, are often left out of discussions, organizing and movement work because they are seen as having little-to-no power. And that is based on oppression – racism, ageism, classism, homophobia, ableism, etc. I can’t speak for the feminist movement as a whole, because I think there are multiple feminist movements. That said, I don’t think any of the feminist movements that I am aware of do enough to lift the voices of young people, especially more marginalized communities of young people.

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

Technology in its broadest sense, has indeed broadened the reach of reproductive justice ideas, the framework and therefore, the movement as a whole. There is a certain economic privilege in accessing technology, and yet certain technology (like cell phones) are ubiquitous. A lot of research has shown that cell phones is the main way that young people, especially people of color, access the internet.

Can you talk a little more about your experiences as a woman 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 activism?

My personal life and my multiple identities are the basis of all my activism. My earliest activist experiences sprung out of my experiences with multiple oppressions, especially around class, gender and race. As I’ve grown older, I am much more aware of my own privilege. I have tried to build bridges across to other movements where I can be an ally (such as immigrants’ rights and LGBTQ liberation) and link issues across movements

Reproductive justice seems to be one of the fights that we keep having to repeat, and I feel we have to constantly assert our right to ownership over our own bodies because politicians exploit this particular women’s issue as a tool to other ends. Can you tell us your views on the recent Planned Parenthood fiasco? How do you think we can keep moving ahead with reproductive justice despite the setbacks that keep appearing?

The fight for reproductive justice is ongoing, just as the struggle for human rights is ongoing. What I mean by that, is we should not believe that we will one day win this fight, and we’ll never have to go back and reinforce the achievement of these basic rights. Despite the tremendous strides of the Civil Rights Movement in the US, we still are working through the implementation of and protection of those rights. Reproductive health, rights and justice should be seen through a similar prism. The struggle for reproductive justice is not just about bodily autonomy; it’s also about our rights to create our families of our own choosing, our ability to express our gender(s) and sexuality freely and free from violence. For me, reproductive justice is ultimately about reclaiming power and transforming that power so that all women, men and children have the access to the resources they need to lead healthy lives.

In order to advance reproductive justice, we need people who are focused on short-term fights and a long-term vision. Our political opponents are well-funded and have a long-established infrastructure. We don’t have that. What we do have is our communities. Reproductive Justice comes out of the lived experiences of our families and our communities, and it is an affirming, positive vision for the future. We need secure the funding and develop the infrastructure in order to lift up the perspectives of our communities in terms of identifying the problems and the solutions.

As for Planned Parenthood, I am not surprised by the attacks on them. This has been coming for a long time. I am pleased, however, that so many people in different spheres have come out and affirmed the need for Planned Parenthood and the work they do. I stand with Planned Parenthood and am glad that so many others do too.

The Pro-Choice Public Education Project is one of the greatest resources for reproductive justice and includes legal information – do you think this is particularly important? Why?

Because of oppression and educational access (along with other factors), many young people don’t know that they do have rights. Many women, especially immigrant women, don’t know that abortion is legal in this country, for example. It’s important that we reach out and share this information who have not traditionally had access to it.

You work with a great variety of youth and activists from all perspectives – does this make it difficult to negotiate goals? How can we best locate common target areas and foster understanding?

I’ve never thought of it that way, to be honest. Our work at PEP was to locate the voices of young women, particularly young women of color, queer youth, and gender-non-conforming in the sexual and reproductive health and rights arenas. Sometimes that meant sharing multiple points of view around an issue, such as abortion. We wanted to enlarge the conversations around reproductive justice to not only include young people, but also to acknowledge them as experts and leaders in the work as well. That didn’t always lend itself to establishing simple, clear goals. In fact, sometimes our work was to make things messier and to not sacrifice the voices of some young people to advance the voices of others.

I’ve done most of my reproductive justice work in coalition. The most successful partnerships have been those where all the people impacted by the issues were included in the conversation. When it comes to youth and young people, it’s often older adults who are talking about young people, and more often than not, problematizing and stigmatizing their behavior. A better option is to have young people at the table, setting the agenda, leading the conversation and developing solutions to the problem. In other words, we need young people involved at every stage of the reproductive justice movement in multiple roles and speaking for themselves from their own experiences.

Identifying common goals and fostering understanding requires trust.
And trust requires clear, respectful communication and some sense of a mutual vision.

How do you think we, as young activists and students can best make a difference in terms of inclusivity and reproductive justice?

I am not sure what you mean by inclusivity. I’ve been in situations where I was included and still not heard or respected. So I don’t think in terms of inclusivity. My goal is transforming power and locating young people at the center of the struggle for reproductive justice. There are many avenues for young people to engage in this fight, and I think they should find the ones that resonate most for them. Whether its creating awareness through online media, campus and community events, tools or organizing for community resources, comprehensive sex education or a piece of legislation, we need the voices and skills of young people EVERYWHERE.

Everyone can do something. Talk to your friends and family about these issues. Volunteer at an organization like Choice USA, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum and others. Use Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social media platforms to educate yourself and others about the issues, AND add your perspective to the discussions so that young people’s voices are heard. Write to your representative about legislation (both good and bad). Vote. Start your own collective, network or organization. In other words, do whatever you need to do to make yourself heard!!!

Badass-Activist Friday presents: DR LOGAN LEVKOFF, Sexologist, Relationship Expert, Author

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.

One quick note – if you haven’t checked out Nancy’s new film xoxosms, about digital intimacy and Love 2.0  – you should! Pledge support now!

So without further ado…

Here’s brainy and beautiful Dr. Logan Levkoff, sexuality educator, Sexologist, and author, committed to a future of sex-positive education and healthy relationships.

Dr. Levkoff encourages honest conversation about sexuality and the role it plays in American culture. She makes it clear that sex and sexuality are not “dirty” words; she works to create an environment where people feel comfortable asking (and getting answers to) their most personal questions. Dr Levkoff empowers children, adolescents, and adults to embrace their sexuality and challenge the impractical, and often unhealthy, messages that they are exposed to.

Dr. Levkoff is the author of Third Base Ain’t What it Used to Be: What Your Kids are Learning About Sex Today and How to Teach Them to Become Sexually Healthy Adults (NAL/Penguin, October 2007), which helps parents to understand the role sexuality plays in their children’s lives and empowers parents to become better at-home sexuality educators.

How did you first get involved in sex-education? Did it begin in college, or high school, and how did your personal experiences play into your decision?

I started as a peer hiv and AIDS educator in the 10th grade. My parents enrolled me in our town’s first program. So, technically, my foray into sex education wasn’t of my own doing, but it couldn’t have been a better fit for me. As a fifteen year old who hadsn’t had sex of any kind, it was easy for me to talk about sex and sexuality. When I finally did have “sex” for the first time, I was surprised that it was even easier for me to talk about sex. Instead of feeling insecure about my own decisions, I embraced them. By the time I got to college, though, I found myself and my girlfriends (smart, sophisticated women) making stupid decisions about sex. And I don’t mean not having safer sex. We were all using physical protection, but we weren’t emotionally protected. We were in these one-sided relationships where we weren’t getting pleasure, reciprocation and sex felt like a chore – a means of avoiding an argument rather than an act between mutually respectful partners. It was that fine line between emotional abuse and having a generally shitty partner. It was the that I knew I had a mission. I wanted to help women find their voice – to speak up for their emotional and physical pleasure and protection.

You’ve done a lot of work in accessible media, particularly television. That’s interesting to me considering the consistently poor representations of teen sexuality and fear-mongering about sex – is this part of your strategy to get a sex-positive message out? Can you talk a little bit more about how media is especially important to your work?

There is no question that media messages about sex and sexuality are often inaccurate, biased, or exploitative. But I have found that in my own small way, I try to make a difference in that medium. Yes, media is essential to my work. I am privileged to get the opportunity to be on television so I am committed to getting a sex-positive and sexually healthy message across no matter where I am appearing (and yes, I will play in the lion’s den – I love debating on Fox News. It is a thrill and a pleasure, albeit totally frustrating.) But the media is important for me because it allows me to educate far beyond my classroom. I chose this profession so that I could speak out for issues and people that don’t always have a voice. And because I have a certain set of credentials and I look a certain way (and you can’t see my tattoos on television), I get an opportunity to be in public eye. I’m not saying that it’s right, it’s pretty damn pathetic, but I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge it. That being said, I will always use that privilege to do what’s right. And I will always take one for the team.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about young people and sex? Do you thing the sex panic of the older generation is legitimate? What do you think it stems from?

The biggest? Young people aren’t entitled to sex. Exploring your sexuality (regardless of whether or not you engage in any sex behaviors) is an essential part of adolescence. It’s as if adults have forgotten what that time was line. Sure, sex comes with responsibilities. But if you give teens the tools to make good decisions, they will use those tools.

Do you think there’s a connection between ‘hook-up’ culture and teen domestic/dating violence? How can this be remedied in a sex-positive way?

In my opinion, the sexual double standard and parent’s perpetuation of it (ie. suggesting that boys are only after one thing, omitting girl’s desire from the discussion, encouraging male experimentation but being overprotective of girls, suggesting to boys – again by omission- that they can’t be emotionally connected to someone else) creates an environment where girls believe that someone else “makes” them sexual – that they aren’t innately sexual. From there, it is easy to understand why there are so many unhealthy relationships. Girls are rarely taught to proudly own their decisions about sex, to speak up, or to have a voice regarding their sexuality. (They’ve never been told they even have a sexuality). If we don’t speak up, we don’t get the pleasure or protection we need and we certainly don’t get equality, respect and reciprocation in our relationships.

What are your hopes for Obama’s administration regarding attitudes towards sex-education? Where do you think it will go and what do you think are potential problems?

I am fearful still for the future of sex education. The house’s unconscionable vote to defund planned parenthood is a perfect example of how women’s health, sexuality and respect for all persons is not a priority for our government.

There’s been a lot of talk on our blog about sex-positivity being a mere ‘fantasy’ because of the intersections of sexuality with other oppressions such as race, motherhood etc, and the fact that sex seems so imbued in sexist views of male dominance and female submission. Can you talk a little bit about how you feel sex-positive activism is working, where it’s going and how effective it is?

Sex positivity isn’t a fantasy. For those of us who perpetuate it, it is very very real. That doesn’t mean that it is challenge-free, but nothing worth fighting for is. But we need to keep raising awareness, educating, challenging unequal message, and hopefully our youth will then feel empowered to challenge the beliefs of the generations before them. Look, I’m realistic. The battle isnt’ going to end any time soon. But while I’m here, I’m committed to fighting it.

Badass-Activist Friday presents HOLLY KEARL of stopstreetharassment.com

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.

So without further ado…

Here’s anti-street harassment expert Holly Kearl .

2-12-11 HollaBack Baltimore Party

Holly is the program manager at the women’s equity nonprofit the American Association of University Women. She is also the founder of the website stopstreetharassment.com and author of the book Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women. She regularly gives talks and writes articles about street harassment and recently founded the First Annual Anti-Street Harassment Day, on March 20, the First Day of Spring.

Let’s start off by defining street harassment – What is it and why should we care? How many people are affected? Who is affected and who’s doing the harassing?

Street harassment is sexual harassment that happens between strangers in public places. Most women everywhere in the world have experienced street harassment, commonly in the form of whistling, kissing noises, vulgar gestures, leering, unsolicited comments about your appearance, sexist or sexually explicit comments, demands for sex, blocking your path, following, masturbation or flashing, groping, and purposely rubbing up against someone in a sexual way. Street harassment can escalate to rape. In some cases, it’s escalated to murder.

There aren’t enough studies on the prevalence of street harassment, but the studies that exist show it impacts anywhere from 80 to 100 percent of women. I conducted informal online survey of 811 women from 23 countries and 45 US states and found that 99 percent reported experiencing forms of street harassment.

Gender-based sexual harassment in public spaces is largely perpetrated by men against women. While some women on occasion may harass men in public, gender inequality means that the power dynamics at play, frequency of the harassment, and the underlying threat of rape is rarely comparable. For these reasons, I primarily focus my work on men harassing women, though I certainly don’t believe anyone should have to face unwanted attention from strangers in public. While public harassment motivated by racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, or classism— types of deplorable harassment which men can be the target of and sometimes women perpetrate—is recognized as socially unacceptable behavior, men’s harassment of women motivated by gender and sexism is not. Instead it is portrayed as complimentary, a joke, “only” a trivial annoyance, or women’s fault because of what they were wearing or the time of day they were in public. One of my goals is to change the social acceptability of gender-based street harassment. Despite what the larger society thinks, this kind of harassment has a very real impact on women’s lives by reducing their sense of safety and comfort in public and thus influencing them to limit their time in public.

How did you get started in street harassment research and education? Was there a specific experience – personal, academic or professional – that confirmed your passion for this work?

While researching a master’s thesis topic I read about a new website called HollaBackNYC that encouraged women to share their stories about street harassment online. I had never heard the term street harassment before, but I immediately recognized it from my own life. In public places, men I do not know have honked and whistled at me, made sexually explicit comments, followed me, and one man even grabbed me sexually when I was on the street. In college, I experienced this type of harassment daily. I rarely talked about it and hadn’t made the connection that it was a form of gender violence

When I wrote my thesis, I found almost no books on the topic, so, a year after I turned it in, at the suggestion of my parents, I decided to start writing a book to help fill that gap. Each time I receive stories from women for my blog or when a woman shares her story in person, they reconfirm my passion for this work. Often it is their first time talking about street harassment, sharing their stories, and finding validation for being upset about what happened, and they remind me why this work is necessary. And each time I face harassment or one of my friends or family members does, it reminds me on a very personal level why this work matters and is important

As a street harassment expert, have you had any experiences or discussions or learned something that really surprised you about this subject?

Last month I came across a report on the website of the U.S. Department of Transportation that talked about how as early as 1909 people were advocating for women-only cars on the new transit system in New York City because of men harassing and soliciting women. I suspected that harassment on public transportation was nothing new, but it still surprised me. More than 100 years later, men harassing women on the New York City subway system is still a huge issue and that is why anti-harassment PSAs launched in 2008. But clearly we need to do more.

What are the consequences of street harassment, immediate or long term, on both a personal level and a broader community level?

The consequences of street harassment are actually quite serious. The more often a woman experiences harassment, or the scarier her experiences, the more likely it is she will take preventative actions like avoiding going near the place it occurred, avoiding being out alone at night, altering what she wears, and generally distrusting men that approach her. On the extreme end, I found that some women move neighborhoods because of harassers (almost 20 percent in my survey) and change jobs because of harassers along the commute (almost 10 percent of the women in my survey). Street harassment results in women limiting their time in public spaces and limiting their access to the resources there. Scholar Cynthia Grant Bowman calls this the “informal ghettoization of women” to the home. Women will never achieve gender equality with men as long as harassment keeps them from having that equal access to public places.

What do you think are the root causes of street harassment? What aspects of our culture facilitate or condone this behavior?

Some of the root causes for street harassment include societal disrespect for women, the objectification of women, and unhealthy definitions of masculinity that encourage men to harass not only women but also other men, particularly men who do not seem to adhere to traditional definitions of masculinity. The media truly is a prime example of this — from marketers that use women’s bodies to sell products, to industries that value women’s looks more than their brains or talents, to commercials that tell men what “real men” do or don’t do.

I also see a lot of reinforcement of these ideas from generation to generation. From older women or mothers who tell girls that the harassment is a compliment or that they should just learn to avoid it or ignore it, to men who harass women in front of their sons or try to bond with sons or younger brothers over objectifying and harassing women. Over and over, I encounter people who believe street harassment is a compliment and this really reinforces street harassment, silences women who experience it, and give men a free pass to continue to do it.

In my experience, street harassment can be a really scary and dehumanizing experience. It’s also really frustrating because it happens so abruptly and we’re so conditioned to keep to ourselves in public spaces, it’s hard to know how to react safely and effectively at the time harassment occurs. What can victims do to counteract harassment and reclaim power? Can you recommend some strategies for our readers?

At minimum, it’s really important for targets of harassment to recognize that it’s not our faults and that nothing we’ve said or done is causing the harassment. This is a societal problem. Recognizing it’s something most women deal with can inspire, enrage, and empower us to do something about it.

In general, thinking about something you can say or do that challenges the behavior of the harasser in a non-violent, non-aggressive way (no insults or profanity because that is more likely to escalate the situation) works well. Turning what the person said into a joke, simply telling them to stop or back off, asking them how they would feel if a man treated his sister/mother/girlfriend/wife/daughter that way, or announcing to people around you what he just did are all examples of what to say.

Also, if the person works for an identifiable company, report them to their company! I’ve read several success stories from women who have reported construction workers or delivery truck drivers and the harassment stopped. And if you’re on a bus or subway, report the harasser to the driver or transit manager. I’ve also received several success stories where harassers are kicked off the bus or told to leave the subway car.

Are there opportunities for victims to pursue legal action against street harassers, here in the United States or elsewhere around the world? Are there any individuals or organizations working to make this happen?

Yes, often if the harassment is extreme enough that it makes you fear for your safety or fear attack, depending on the state or city laws, you can press charges for public harassment. The limitation is that this usually requires repeated harassment and threatening behavior. Also, since there are often laws against public lewdness, if someone flashes or masturbates on you, you can report it. And if someone gropes you or assaults you, then you can report it under assault charges.

On an international level:

– The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights is working with members of parliament to pass a new anti-sexual harassment law that would include harassment occurring in public spaces.

– In Delhi, India, there is a law that encompasses a lot of street harassment behaviors. Since January, police have been cracking down on harassers (“eve-teasers,” as they call them). During the second week of January, I read that they arrested 26 harassers in one area for “passing lewd remarks at women.” There have been a lot of suicides among young women in Bangladesh because of street harassment. In response, last year the police started actually enforcing a law that encompasses street harassment behavior, and last spring the first harassers were arrested under it.

– Since last spring, the UK Anti-Street Harassment Campaign (ASH) is lobbying politicians to take on the issue of street harassment and pass better laws.

What can our readers do to stop street harassment and prevent it from happening in the first place? What can men do to support efforts to end street harassment?

It’s so important to break the silence on this topic, so just talking about it, sharing stories, and sharing strategies is essential. Talking specifically to young women or young men you know is really important in preventative work: let them know what is or is not acceptable and teach them how they can respond in an empowering way so they do not feel victimized.

In my book and on my website I really break down what we can do into four main categories: educating men, empowering women, raising awareness in our communities, and creating anti-street harassment campaigns.

Men can learn about this issue from the women they care about. Ask a woman what experiences she’s had and how they have impacted her life. Men can be good bystanders when they see harassment occurring, though it’s important to use non-violent, low aggression tactics rather than inadvertently escalating the situation. And, most important but also the most difficult, they can challenge sexist talk and not promote or reinforce harmful gender definitions.

What is unique about your approach to street harassment and how do you work with other organizations to the same ends?

A lot of the work that I do is raising awareness about street harassment and providing ideas to people for how they can help end it. My website and book are depositories of knowledge on the subject that include resources. I take a comprehensive approach to street harassment in my work, including a historical perspective, exploring the intersections of gender + race, class, sexual orientation, dis/ability, examining that through a global lens, acknowledging that not all women view street harassment the same way, and looking at why some men are street harassers and how definitions of masculinity treat that harassment as socially acceptable behavior. In fact, a lot of what I do is idea sharing. I collect what people have used and done and share those ideas so other can find inspiration for taking on street harassment in their community. One example of this collaborative aspect occurred when I met with Emily May of HollaBack and Oraia Reid of RightRides in 2009 to interview them for my book. I mentioned some of the activism going on internationally, including that Egyptian women were developing a system so people could report harassers via cell phones. Emily and Oraia loved the idea and a year and a half later, the HollaBack iPhone and droid apps were released. I work with other organizations to promote their work and include them as resources for others. I’ve also had the opportunity to collaborate with groups like Girls for Gender Equity, and Men Can Stop Rape for community events on street harassment, and I hope there will be more opportunities for collaboration in the future.

If you’d like to participate in the first ever Anti-Street-Harassment Day, on March 20th, more information here!

Badass-Activist Friday presents: COLIN ADAMO of Hooking Up and Staying Hooked

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.

So without further ado…

Here’s Colin Adamo, director of Yale sex week and founder of Hooking Up and Staying Hooked!


As a recent graduate from Yale University, Colin Adamo helped coordinate a student group of health educators to teach sex-ed in local public schools, directed Sex Week at Yale, a biennial sex-ed summit, and authored a column on college relationships – and proves that young men are, should be seen as integral to the movement towards cultural change. He is currently working on developing the guide Hooking Up & Staying Hooked into graphic novel format and making his words of wisdom available to more and more young men.

1. Can you tell us a bit about how you start up the site Hookedupandstayinghooked.com? Did your experience as director of sex week at Yale inform your work after college? How?

I got to high school and was kind of desperate for any sort of advice when it came to girls, dating or sex. I found a lot of stuff in the bookstore but it always felt like it was for someone much older. After translating the info of these resources to fit my life, and a few years teaching health education to high school students while I was in college I figured I was in the perfect spot to put together the guide that I had always wanted when I was younger.

Through Sex Week I got to meet the most innovative and amazing people at the top of their fields be it specifically sex-ed, or adult entertainment, or even sex work. Being exposed to such brilliant minds and understanding their ambitions was a huge inspiration as well as a meaningful learning experience. It definitely gave me the courage to try new things with my work.

2. What is your target demographic, and what, typically, are their attitudes regarding consent, sex-positivity and boundaries? Why?

My hope is that every teenage guy across the country has the opportunity to sift through the content at H.U.S.H. as well as ask any questions they might be too afraid to ask their friends or parents. I write from what I know, so the advice is for straight guys 13-19, but I strongly advocate for education that is open to non-straight-identifying or questioning teens as well.

It seems like society wants to see these boys as positively-sexual – sex-obsessed and borderline dangerous in their pursuit to “ruin” the daughters of America with their uncontrollable hormonal lust. But I don’t think this is the case. I’ve met a lot of young dudes with questions, with insecurities, with the desire to find someone who they like and who really likes them back.

I think when you get down to it most young guys are open to feeling good and making their partners feel good. Unfortunately there is a lot of pressure to move at a pace that’s faster than they might like which often encourages them to push boundaries before they or their partners are actually ready and/or willing.

3. The attitude of most campus administrations regarding sexual assault and rape seems to focus on protection for women for which they are responsible – walking escorts, security etc. Do you think this is effective? What do you think are the problems of most of the violence education programs on campuses? What should change?

I think this attitude is totally whack and that is huge inspiration driving H.U.S.H. It seems like too often we’re looking for ways to “protect” girls from lascivious guys that are going to sexually assault them, get them pregnant or give them an STI.

It’s time we start talking to guys. Let’s quit treating them as potential assailants and instead address their desires and how to fulfill them respectfully and effectively.

Let’s ask guys what they want out of a sexual experience. Not many would say, “I want to get my rocks of regardless of whether or not I can find a partner who is willing.” Sure a lot of them might want to get laid, but most would probably want to do so in a way that makes them and their partners feel sexy, have fun, and get off. Giving them the tools to communicate with partners, give pleasure, and respect boundaries is the first step in creating healthier sexual environments on college campuses where heterosexual guys have sex (which is all of them).

4. How do you think activists can best involve and educate young men? What are the best ways to reach them?

My feelings are that activism is all about empathy, connecting to others on a person-to-person basis and discussing needs and concerns on both sides. It’s about reaching out and making allies, even if only one at a time, and having these guys accomplish your goals for you within their own community of friends and peers. Really supporting allies you acquire along the way might be the best method to bringing about change from within communities.

At the same time when educating or getting your message out you can’t write anyone off, paint any one person or group of people as the bad guy, or hand out any injunctions on how men have to act. You have to connect with them, see things from their perspective, and help guide them towards making the healthier decisions for themselves.

5. What is your favourite storyline/depiction of a relationship/sex/love for young people in the media? What makes it realistic?

I must admit my HUGE guilty pleasure addiction to Skins (I’m a loyalist to the UK version). It’s got teens hooking up in their bedrooms with their parents awkwardly milling about the house. It’s got teens getting messed up and hooking up when they shouldn’t. It’s got teens enjoying sex and intimacy and it’s got teens using sex as a tool or even a weapon. It has dramatically packed a ton of complicated feelings into a diverse cross-section of relationships.

Sure, I wish there was a little bit more depiction of them putting on condoms before going at it, and it normalizes drug use and rampant sex in a way I’m not completely comfortable with, but the roller coaster of feelings – the scariness, the desire, the hurt, the fun, the obsession, the excitement, the heartache, the ennui – capture a snapshot of adolescence in a way many have strived to, but ultimately failed. It’s completely unrealistic in its sensationalism but as real as ever in its portrayal of emotions that all seem so new as a teenager.

6. What frustrations have you encountered in your work? Or questions that you wish people would ask but don’t? Feel free to add anything else you’d like to say.

Too many people think young guys’ only concern is getting laid. It’s unfair. Few think that these guys need much in terms of guidance, or that they won’t seek out resources like H.U.S.H., or that they will only use it to get “what they want” out of girls. There is just generally an air of apathy or threatening desires that the rest of us assume young men have when few actually do.

I’d like to see more people asking, “what can we do for young guys?” I think it would make a big difference overall in the well-being of youth across the country.

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