I’m Pro-Choice, Not Bro-Chice

NOTE: As amazing as it would be if Bro-Choice were an organization fighting for the reproductive rights of men assigned female at birth, it is a movement geared toward cis men. There are men for whom reproductive rights are a serious and personal issue, and I do not mean to contribute to their erasure in this article.

The internet has been abuzz recently with talk about Bro-Choice, a new project from Choice USA that seeks to educate and work with college men on reproductive rights, and to disrupt “the dominant narrative that reproductive justice is a ‘women’s issue.'” I confess the first thing that came to mind when I heard about this project was “Bronies” – a.k.a. the men who built a passionate fan base over a show intended for young girls. The similar feeling of discomfort over masculinizing a woman-oriented thing also came to mind.

I read Choice USA’s article on Bro-Choice by Andrew Jenkins and I found that a lot of my skepticism was allayed – the word “Bro” conjures images of stereotypical masculinity and misogyny, but I found a thoughtful call for young men to take an interest in securing what should be basic human rights. However, I also saw the by-line at the top stating Bro-Choice wants to “[move] men from passive allies to vocal stakeholders,” and I take some issue with this rhetoric, and with the idea of building an identity around being an “ally” or “male feminist.”

There is a lot to like about Bro-Choice. Educating young people about reproductive rights and sexuality is a wholly positive thing, especially with their explicit wish to “combat complacency and paternalism” both, and to be aware of male privilege while doing so. But the Bro-Choice pledge – to speak out against injustice at the risk of alienation, advocate for reproductive justice, and challenge rape culture and misogyny – is inherently righteous, not just because the man taking it knows and is related to women. Bro-Choice does a lot right, which is why critiquing their rhetoric (and silly name) feels like nit-picking, but there are problems with making allies as visible as the people they are supposed to be supporting.

I don’t identify as a feminist. I don’t mean to say that I disavow feminism or its principles, either – but I have become very skeptical of “male feminists” and their organizations over the last few years. I’ve heard self-identified “male feminists” argue that rape is an evolutionary tool designed for men to spread their seed. I’ve known “male feminists” who have raped women and suffered no consequences. (I have known men with no knowledge whatsoever of feminist theories treat women with respect and to powerfully oppose what in feminism is called “rape culture,” though they did not know the term.) I’ve seen “allies” behave cruelly in their words and actions while paying lip service to the idea of social justice, to the point where I felt it counterproductive and appropriative for me identify as a feminist. Feminism is a movement for the liberation of women, and should remain under the control of women, solely. I found myself nodding when Jenkins said “we don’t need young men to participate in this work because they’ve been motivated by a sexist narrative about ‘saving our mothers, sisters and daughters’ – a narrative often perpetuated by our own movement. We don’t need a knight in shining armor.”

With some allies, you don't even need enemies!

Bro-Choice stresses the awareness of male privilege and the fact that this is a woman’s issue first and foremost, but in the same breath urges men move from being “passive allies to vocal stakeholders” regardless of whether they are needed or wanted. The term “ally” conjures images of war – the ally is metaphorically going into battle with the marginalized group against the foe, because they share a common material interest or cultural values (like NATO, the EU, the Warsaw Pact). But because of the nature of gender relations in our society, men benefit from the fact that women are paid less for the same labor, that they tend to be depicted as emotional and untrustworthy, and that their bodies are often viewed as not theirs to control, particularly in the context of reproductive rights and sexual harassment and assault. It seems wrong to take the focus off of the disadvantaged party in order to put the focus and control onto the party that implicitly condescends to “alliance.”

When a man identifies as feminist, he might be thought of as mildly deluded at worst, rather than as a harpy or feminazi. Male feminists will not be accused of wanting to “leave their husbands, kill their children, and practice witchcraft.”

When you self-identify as an “ally,” it might blind you to the ways in which you are upholding injustice, purposefully or unknowingly; it might make you view yourself as incapable of being oppressive or offensive, as your intentions come from a good place. An ally opposing sexism (and the same goes for racism, classism, homophobia, et al) without understanding how sexism (or racism, classism, homophobia) benefits them makes a poor “stakeholder” in the movement; empowering marginalized communities does more to combat structural oppression and disadvantage than the passion of any number of well-meaning liberal-minded people. Part of the Bro-Choice pledge may be to “challenge myself and interrogate my own personal privileges” but it is harder to do so when you are in a cordoned-off part of the women’s movement under the interest of men, and harder to be called out on internalized misogyny in an echo chamber of men.

Bro-Choice is co-opting a women’s movement for men.

Men’s role in feminism should be to challenge other men, and to be points of resistance against a culture that devalues women and femininity – not to be the leaders or stakeholders. Men can’t be stakeholders or take the spotlight in the pro-choice movement because it is not their bodies who are besieged by moralizing politicians, or who suffer lack of access to birth control or who are often judged harshly for doing so (though this only applies to cisgender men) – and it seems strange to build a personal brand around a kind of grief that you can never know. I support feminism, I strive to be in solidarity with feminism and to oppose misogyny in others and in myself, but I feel I cannot identify as a feminist as it is simply not my place. I can’t speak for a struggle whose hardships I have never known and over whom I have privilege, and even my writing here on a feminist website is often limited seeing as there are elements of feminism that I literally cannot know or relate to. The best thing for men interested in women’s equality to do is to listen with kindness, compassion, and understanding to those who do know the reality of gender injustice, and to support them without trying to lead them.

I don’t need a label like Bro-Choice to describe my feelings, because I don’t need to be honored simply due to my interest in being an ally. I’m not Bro-Choice, I’m Pro-Choice, and I support the feminist movement without expecting a reward.

This Is An Enthusiastic Consent Appreciation Post

Picture the scene: you’re about to have sex. Good for you! But before you get going, there’s something you’ve got to do first. You need to get enthusiastic consent from your partner.

via The New School

April is designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year’s campaign is about preventing sexual violence through conversation, and the tagline is: “It’s time… to talk about it! Talk early, talk often. Prevent sexual violence.” The focus is on child sexual abuse prevention, but it’s a lesson that can be applied to sexual violence prevention in general. The characteristics of healthy sexuality need to be taught so risks and harm can be identified. The sex education that children and teens receive places a lot of focus on STDs and contraception, and not enough on actual sex and its workings. If kids don’t know about consent, how can they respect it or practice it? If kids don’t know what assault is, how can they prevent it?

So, back to you, and your imminent sexual experience. You know, I hope, that if they said “no”, you need to stop, because anything you do after that point is rape. But you also need to realise that consent is much more than simply saying “no”. “No” can mean a myriad of things. It can mean that the person is too scared, too shy, too embarrassed to say anything else. It can mean that they’re too intoxicated to say anything at all. And if you have sex with someone who doesn’t want it, because you didn’t make absolutely sure that they did, then that makes you a rapist too.

We need to not only place a greater focus on consent, but move the focus away from “no means no” to “yes means yes.” Because “yes” really is the only thing that means “yes.” Silence doesn’t mean “yes.” “Maybe” doesn’t mean “yes.” “I don’t know” doesn’t mean “yes.” In fact, as far as you need to be concerned, they all mean “no.”

Unless someone gives you enthusiastic, informed consent, then you need to assume that they do not want to have sex with you, and until you receive that “yes,” you should not be trying to have sex with them. Even if they’ve been making out with you all night. Even if they told you that they wanted it earlier. Even if you’re in a relationship. Even if you’re married. Even if you’ve already had sex with them. Even if you’ve already had sex with them that night. Nobody is guaranteed sex with anyone, and nobody is obligated to have sex with anybody. You need to make sure directly before you have sex that whoever you’re with still wants it. And that includes not assuming that, if, say, they consented to oral sex, that they consent to sexual intercourse. Or that if they consent to having vaginal sex, that they consent to having anal sex.

Basically, you need to talk to them. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

So maybe you don’t get it. But that kills the mood! It’s not sexy, it’s awkward, to ask these sorts of questions. Which is funny (not really), because the fact that getting consent is considered so unsexy and awkward can be attributed to the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the first place. I mean, what could be more sexy than knowing that the person that you want to have sex with wants to have sex with you? Unless you want to rape, or, unless sex is something that you feel entitled to. All it takes is a simple question, a simple “wanna fuck?” or an “are you into this?” And what it achieves goes so much further.

But we’re in a relationship/we’re married, you say. I know their body language well enough. Which might be true. In fact, it’s possible to guess that someone you’ve never met until that night consents, judging from the signs they give off, too. But don’t take anything for granted. You can’t make assumptions, and like I said, it could result in you being a rapist. The fact that this could even be considered a worthwhile exchange for not asking one little question says way too much about society.

It’s a vicious cycle, too. If consent is considered unsexy to attain, then it must be considered unsexy to give. And if you feel obliged to have sex, and that the consequences of not doing so are worse than doing so against your will, why would you report that as rape? Make no mistake: it is. And this is why we need enthusiastic consent. More generally, this is why we need to talk about healthy sexuality, and why we need to teach it.

Consent, or the absence of it, is at the heart of sexual violence. It needs to be at the heart of ending it, too.

If you are interested in learning more about consent and healthy sexuality, the below resources are a great place to start:

Project Respect, a youth-driven program aimed at preventing sexualised violence

Sexual Assault Awareness Month’s 2012 campaign resources on Healthy Sexuality

Sexual Assault Violence Prevention, Vassar College’s initiative for the prevention of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking on its campus

+ If you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse of any kind, please don’t hesitate to talk to someone. Contact RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) for help and for resources.

My Rage Is Legitimate: On Navigating Street Harassment And My Socialization

This post is certainly well-timed! It’s the International Anti-Street Harassment Week. Check out Hollaback! for resources.

Growing up relatively sheltered on suburban Long Island, I didn’t really know what to make of street harassment the first few times it happened to me.

vintage sexism

It started when I went on to seventh grade; along with migrating to the other side of the school building, I graduated from wearing an awkward, cumbersome plaid Catholic school jumper to a skirt. The only thing I liked about the skirt was how straightforward it was to put on, and as much as I hated finagling the logistics of putting on the jumper, the skirt seemed to come with its own troubled politics as a young girl trying to run away from being identified as a woman. I thought of the skirt as a chore, but, like so many things I dealt with in early adolescence, I had to reluctantly put up with it anyway. I kept my skirt unrolled as a protest against turning it into a fashion statement and as a deterrent against the boys in my grade commenting on how I didn’t measure up. I was already unpopular, and there was no need to fan the flames of my social suicide.

Of course, it happened anyway, on my way walking home from the bus stop. But this time I was singled out by men I didn’t know as they drove by. I remember feeling shame flush my cheeks as I would try to burrow my face in my jacket. As I navigated catcalling in my teens by creepy men who felt entitled enough to inquire into the marital status of someone they didn’t know, I remained profoundly confused as to how I should react globally to harassment. Should I be flattered? Upset? Laugh it off as an idiotic anecdote to tell my friends? Being fiercely independent, I innately felt it shouldn’t be up to me to amend my own habits (perhaps, trying to enlist one of my few male friends to hang out with me to dissuade catcalling) out of fear. That seemed backward, antediluvian.

After I became politicized in college and started commuting to the city for work this past summer, the onslaught began anew the second I got off the Long Island Bus and my rage consumed me like a flame, building in my throat. I didn’t know what to do. Remaining silent seemed to reify my feelings of helplessness, even as I knew silence could function as a form of resistance. I didn’t deserve to be subject to lewd gestures my entire commute home just because I accidentally made eye contact with a total jerk. Sometimes my fear that the harassment would escalate to groping or another type of attack would lead me to run out of sight the moment the subway doors chimed open. I didn’t want to be around to find out what might happen next. Often, my responses to street harassment left me feeling angry and powerless – powerless because I didn’t feel I could vocalize my anger in the moment. Even though I’m working on unlearning self-hating socialization, as a black woman, I still feel uncomfortable taking up a lot of space in public, particularly when that emotion is (righteous) anger.

The trivialization of street harassment and dismissing a larger, more sustained political response to it because it “isn’t a big deal” or it “happens to every woman” makes invisible the systemic sexualized violence women encounter daily. The ability to name oppressions and claim your rage at its unwanted permeation into your daily life is important and crucial. Spaces that not only legitimize but also create communities around sharing rage, including Hollaback!NYC and the Everyday Sexism Project’s Twitter account, do the work of making these experiences visible and validating rage, bewilderment, and anger as legitimate responses to harassment. In my own micro way, posting about my experiences to my feminist friends on Facebook helped me to find a community that would find this behavior ridiculous, no questions asked, and help me work through my frustration.

In a quote from an April 10 article by Zerlina Maxwell, Holly Kearl, the creator of the End Street Harassment Week awareness campaign, observes, “The acceptance of street harassment, the portrayal of it as a compliment or a joke, creates a culture where it is normal to disrespect someone or to comment on them or to touch them without their consent. That culture helps make rape okay and lets rapists get away with their crime.”

Brushing aside women’s concerns and anger about street harassment they shouldn’t even be subject to in the first place mirrors a larger cultural acceptance of violence towards women in the U.S., and it’s one that should no longer be tolerated.

SlutWalk Tucson

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

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

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

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

This is for us.

We are human and this is us being human.

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

This is for us.

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

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


Using Culture to Change Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicagoans organize around cases of police violence

Last Saturday, about 2,000 people filled the streets of downtown Chicago for SlutWalk, a global protest movement demanding an end to rape and the pervasive victim-blaming attitudes and policies that help facilitate violence.  It was the very first sweltering hot day of Midwest summer.  We talked excitedly about the power of bringing a public voice to this otherwise silent social problem, and we networked to organize for future events around sexual violence and institutional violence.  The energy and outrage from the crowd was absolutely palpable.  SlutWalk participants could feel that we were starting something much bigger than ourselves.

The symbolic reclaiming of the streets has a long history in liberation activism, and I think it’s an especially poignant act in Chicago, which still holds the coveted title of the most racially and economically segregated city in the United States.  Chicago’s history of systematic institutional violence once inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to report from the city’s streets, “I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today.”  At a recent workshop hosted by the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), Jerry Boyle from the National Lawyers Guild aptly described government-sponsored Chicago street politics as “low intensity warfare against marginalized groups,” especially organizers.

SlutWalk reminded Chicagoans: These are our streets, and we have the right to own them. And the message could not be timelier.

On June 1st, Chicago police officers Paul Clavijo and Juan Vasquez were both indicted on charges of criminal sexual assault and official misconduct for their actions against a 22 year old woman identified as Jane Doe.

While patrolling the 23rd District around Wrigley Field at 2am on March 30th, Clavijo and Vasquez saw the extremely intoxicated young woman crying and walking home alone.  They invited her into the marked squad car under pretenses of offering her a ride to her apartment two districts away in the Rogers Park neighborhood.  Jane Doe tried to take the back seat, but Clavijo insisted that he sit on his lap in the front seat, where he sexually assaulted her the first time while Vasquez went into a liquor store.   Clavijo and Vasquez then took Jane Doe to her apartment, where they sexually assaulted her until she pounded her fists on the walls and screamed for help, at which point a neighbor helped her.

Police reporting to the scene found Jane Doe “in a ‘hysterical’ state.”  The victim’s blood alcohol level was .38 by the time she received medical treatment at a hospital hours later.  That’s about five times the legal limit to drive in Illinois and, according to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, it’s not possible for someone that incapacitated to provide consent for sex.

Several elements surrounding the accusations against these officers reveal some unsettling inferences about the culture of impunity for police violence.  Clavijo and Vasquez were heavily-armed, on-duty, uniformed, and using a marked squad car to pick up a drunk woman in a public space.  That kind of abandon suggests that these law enforcement officers were completely confident that they would get away with their “misconduct.”  In fact, it should not surprise those readers with even a cursory understanding of sexual predators that Officer Paul Clavijo faces a second sexual assault charge for almost identical actions against another woman just twenty days earlier.  These elements tell us a great deal about the lack of oversight and accountability for police violence in Chicago.

This case is deeply disturbing, not least of all for its capacity to completely demolish the cultural conception of police as trustworthy and protective figures.  It’s hard to adequately describe the psychic violence suffered by an entire community when police commit violence.  Our New York readers might know what I’m talking about.  The queer people, trans folks, homeless youth, sex workers, and people of color targeted by police know what I’m talking about.

Results from a 2009 study by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project found that police misconduct accounted for 22% of reported incidents of institutional violence against girls involved in street economies.  At SlutWalk, SWOP’s Crash Crawford reminded attendants what this means for Chicago sex workers:

Predators are often reassured of their impunity by society’s attitudes towards such ‘whores’ and ‘sluts.’ Many a serial-killer has admitted to targeting sex-workers because they felt they were ‘easy targets’; that they ‘wouldn’t be missed.’ […]  Also to be feared is the all-too-common ‘un-sympathetic’ agents of law enforcement; abusers in their own right; often extorting sexual acts at the point of a night-stick, or by threatening arrest. Sadly, it is not unheard of for officers to attack sex-workers overtly, especially those also in the transgender community.

So what happens to police who abuse the citizens they’re paid to protect?

According to a 2007 study by Craig Futterman at the University of Chicago Law School, the odds that a Chicago police officer charged with abusing a civilian will receive any meaningful discipline is only two in a thousand.  In more than 85% of the abuse investigations analyzed, Futterman found that the accused officer was never even interviewed before complaints were dismissed.  Alarmingly, about 75% of officers with multiple charges of abuse never received any disciplinary action of any kind whatsoever.

On Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel started the first leg of his “anti-crime” PR project by moving 150 police officers from administrative jobs to beat positions.  Not surprisingly, Rahmbo didn’t say peep about plans to improve oversight while our tax dollars pay police to target minorities in our own streets and homes.  Meanwhile, given this rape case, the actions of Internal Affairs who allegedly threatened Tiawanda Moore for attempting to report a sexual assault by a police officer and the zeal with which our State’s Attorney has pursued felony charges against her, those of us who used to feel safe with cops around might feel differently the next time we see those blue lights flashing.

We are sick of being treated like enemies in a warzone when we walk down the street.  A lot of us are fed up and, in the spirit of SlutWalk, we’ve decided to do something about it.

Jane Doe has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago and the two police officers who allegedly raped her, charging ten counts of assault and battery, failure to intervene, and conspiracy.  Doe’s attorney told Chicago Public Radio,

The city shares some of the responsibility and some of the blame for not having a good system in place to deter misconduct because of the failure of supervision and discipline.

Chicago advocates and allies agree.  This author is working with a highly energized, passionate group to help organize around police violence.  We want effective, thorough investigations into every allegation, oversight, accountability, and an end to cultural impunity for violence.  We want Chicago to know that a victim of rape is never to blame — especially when the assailant wields a gun, a baton, a tazer, mace, and a badge.

If you experience harassment or abuse at the hands of a law enforcement officer, call the National Sexual Assault Crisis Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE).  You may want to consider filing a complaint against the offending officer with the Independent Police Review Authority, in which case you should contact an attorney immediately.  If you’re not interested in pursuing action through the justice system, contact this author to participate in victim-centered, community-based strategic action and organizing around police violence in Chicago.  And stay tuned for updates as Chicagoans organize!

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.

Feminist Porn Awards: Lauren Reports!

Note: Some links NSFW

This month, I went to the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto, a three day event showing and celebrating porn focused on women’s pleasure and visibility for marginalized identities. The events included three nights of screenings, performance, discussion, and lastly an awards ceremony honoring the best in feminist porn this year. In an interview, the founder of the Feminist Porn Awards, Alison Lee said,

“Porn has expanded to include women and marginalized communities, and many people don’t know about the hot and artistic movies that are being made with a feminist sensibility. We are proud to promote these filmmakers, and excited about directing people to their work.”

The awards brought in a huge diverse crowd, and was successful in showing a huge array of films showcasing sexual diversity and sex-positivity.

In it’s 6th year, the events were truly inspiring. The guests were sex-positive, creative and radical folks who strived to revolutionize a largely sexist and transphobic industry. Notable guests and panelists included, feminist pornographer and educator Tristan Taormino, sex educator and filmmaker Jaiya, genderqueer pornstar Jiz Lee and filmmaker Cheryl Dunye.

One of my favorite parts of the events was the inclusion of men in discussions of feminism and responsible media making. Artist and filmmaker Carlos Batts spoke about the importance of making his models feel comfortable and consenting to everything they do in his shoots. Batts also includes varieties of body types in his films, expanding sex-positivity beyond the world of skinny white women. It was so refreshing to see a man in the industry who cared about these issues and is making politically aware ethical smut.

Drew Deveaux, who won the “Heartthrob of the Year” award is a Canadian, trans woman who noted her porn performance as a natural extension of her previous activism work. Not seeing herself represented in porn, she found this lack of diversity to be a problem. In an interview she said,

“My motivation for making porn was that I didn’t see many representations of trans-women…I put myself out there as an androgynous, post-op trans-woman. There were virtually no women who were like me in porn, but I knew so many hot, andro, queer trans-women. I was kind of doing it for them.”

Being cautious of the dangers of stereotyping, Drew is making porn to represent herself and her community.

The events really pointed out the importance of promoting feminist media and using it as a powerful tool for changing stereotypes and creating visibility.

For more about the awards check out the Good for Her website.

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