Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hard Out Here for Lily Allen




Behind every successful woman, there is an even more successful man. Just ask Lily Allen.

BBC Radio 2 recently afforded the controversial pop star an opportunity to serve up the questions, rather than answer them. Yet even during her “trading places” moment with British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, Allen gave the most memorable quotes.  

When Shulman observed most of Allen’s fiercest competitors in the music industry were women, Allen responded, ''You'll also notice, of those big, successful, female artists, there's always a man behind the woman-piece."

She continued to discredit every songstress imaginable by listing their puppet masters; "Whether it's Beyoncé it's Jay Z, if it's Adele it's Paul Hepworth, with me it was Mark Ronson, same with Amy Winehouse."

So there you have it. No matter how accomplished the lady, there is always a gentleman nearby, pulling her strings and facilitating her fame.

These cringe-worthy statements come directly after Allen’s ShortList takeover, where she professed her distaste for feminism, and women in general.

While collaborating with the UK’s lifestyle magazine for men, Allen was asked to address double standards affecting women in music. Hinting at her more recent lyrics, ShortList suggested Allen was often critical other female artists. Taken aback, Allen explained:
It just dribbled out! It’s not supposed to be provocative and it’s not attacking anyone, although it does namecheck a few people. [like Katy Perry] It’s about how girls are pitted against each other, unlike men. I know you had it in the Nineties with Blur versus Oasis, but it’s not the same thing. It’s like ‘Who looks the best?’, ‘You’re getting too old to do this, you shouldn’t be doing that’. There seems to be a moral undertone when women are concerned that doesn’t happen with men, and that’s what that song is about. Stop this now [laughs]. 
Excellent observations, but Allen continued, perhaps overcompensating for her previous statements, setting her sights on feminism and its futility:
Feminism. I hate that word because it shouldn’t even be a thing anymore. We’re all equal, everyone is equal so why is there even a conversation about feminism? What’s the man version of feminism? There isn’t even a word for it. There’s no reason for it. Menanism. Male-ism. It doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, Allen is unaware there certainly are men’s rights activists. It’s just no one takes them seriously. When you’re a member of the dominant group, you cannot be oppressed, no matter how bad your feelings are hurt when you get called out on your shit.

ShortList positioned Allen as some sort of gender authority— only because she usually has such honest, insightful things to say about women. Even they seemed confused by the contradictory stance she took during her interview: 
The theme of Lily’s ShortList is ‘How To Be A Man, By Women’, which is done in the spirit of improving gender relations. However, she is quick to say, “I’m not an archetypal woman. All my best friends are boys.
Ma’am—I don’t know if you know this, but that is a red flag. “All her friends are dudes” is less about preference, and more about self-hatred. Sisterhood is powerful, and if you can’t relate to other women about your shared experience on this earth, I just feel bad for you. Also, who are you gonna borrow a tampon from? I mean, come on.

Women who don’t trust women aren’t to be trusted. But Allen takes her insults even further, revealing that she is an adult operating like an insecure high school girl:
It’s much the same. But I don’t think men are the enemy, I think women are the enemy. I know that when I’m sitting in a restaurant and a really beautiful woman walks in, who’s skinny, I instinctively think, “Oh she’s really skinny and beautiful and I’m really fat and ugly.” Every man I speak to always says they find that kind of woman gross, and they prefer a bit more meat on their ladies. So it’s more of a competitive thing. It’s weird. It’s just really unhealthy and we’re our own worst enemy. We should stop being so horrible to each other.
Once again, she pledges her allegiance to the mens. But first, let’s talk about that stranger at the restaurant. Why are you mad at her? Because you're supposedly fighting for male attention like the fucking hunger games

And the worst part is apparently only reassurance from your male companions can restore your inner peace. But it's cool, because they would totally rather objectify your body, instead of hers. So, you’re welcome.

Because you recognize their feelings about your appearance as more important than your own, their approval is everything. And that negative body image is a problem for which feminism is the remedy.

We live in a patriarchal society where men’s perspectives are valued over women’s, and their preferences are prioritized as social norms. Those standards affect how we feel about ourselves and, as you know first-hand, how we interact with others.

But why must anyone be your enemy? Why are you trapped in a dichotomous world that forces you to choose sides? 

Allen’s recent troubles stem from the release of her new album Sheezus, her first creative contribution following her pregnancy. And “Hard Out Here,” was the seemingly empowering single trumpeting her triumphant return.  

Or at least it was, until she unveiled the accompanying video.



With better words than visuals, it was all sorts of problematic. Allen claimed it was oh-so-unintentional, there was something rather unsettling about a fully-covered white woman surrounded by scantily clad women of color. Twerking, of course.

And while they twerked, she barely moved, making her "feminist anthem" more like a disappointing example of mindless appropriation.

Yes, it IS hard out here for a bitch. But it’s even harder for the back-up dancers you just exploited and objectified. Not very subversive. In fact, mostly just more of the same. 

Allen is not the first seemingly feminist pop star to take an inexplicable stand against feminism. And she certainly won’t be that last. 

Her supposed adversary Katy Perry had a similar guffaw, completely unprovoked, when she accepted the Billboard “Woman of the Year Award” in 2012. While distancing herself from the f-word, she assured the audience she did believe in the strength of women.

Even Gwen Stefani, with her timeless battle cry “Just a Girl,” rejected the label in a devastating interview with Bust back in 2007. Sure, this is all kinds of frustrating, but do we really need our pop stars to be well-versed in feminist theory? Should we care if celebrities are feminists?

Yes, and no.

Personally, I’m tired of expending the effort to determine whether or not celebrities are feminists. Seriously, it’s exhausting.

Remember how upset we were when Beyoncé showed up on that Ms. Magazine cover? Who did this “Mrs. Carter” think she was? But then her secret album dropped. And she became a spokesperson for Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign

Now, she’s our favorite feminist icon, not to mention the patron saint of lady business. Who knew?

Let’s be clear. I give no fucks whether Lily Allen, Katy Perry, or Beyoncé call themselves feminists. Their identities do not affect my own feminist beliefs. At all.    

But their declarations do have the ability to influence young girls. And this is where explicit aversion of public figures begins to matter. From princesses, to pop stars, to CEOs, role models are important. And we need them, because you can’t be what you can’t see

Beyond recruitment, and the satisfaction of mainstream validation, there are other benefits to Top 40 representation. Feminism is rooted in academia, perpetuated by individuals fortunate enough to take gender studies courses. But it desperately needs to be more accessible, beyond the ivory tower.

Women in pop culture openly identifying as feminists could advance the conversation, making the ideology more inclusive. 

But let’s say the Katy Perrys and Gwen Stefanis of the world continue to throw feminism under the bus. Can art be feminist, without the artist identifying as a feminist? If the piece provokes a “click” moment, unleashing the consumer’s feminist consciousness, must the creator also take the label to certify the authenticity of the recipient's relationship to the work in question?

Writing, painting, music—it’s all subjective. Sure, lyrics might seem to touch on women’s issues, like wanting “to eat spaghetti bolognaise and not feel bad about it for days and days and days.” But even that is open to interpretation.

Pop stars are pop stars because they can sing and dance. Not quote Judith Butler. And it’s terribly limiting to only consume products aligning with your political ideologies.

However, I’m growing very tired of celebrities denouncing feminism without really understanding power structures, given the obvious effects on their own careers, not to mention the world around them.

Every time Allen sings about body image, women's sexuality, and the challenges of being female in the music industry, those are all feminist acts. That being said, there are a few things she should consider before her next interview.

You see men helping women get ahead? Great. Nobody ever got anywhere completely on their own. When men get help from men, that’s called mentoring. Their connections are seen as assets. Why should the assistance women receive from men discount their accomplishments?

And you hate feminism? Guess what—some days, so do I. But men don’t need their own version because male privilege is real and the odds are already in their favor. Don’t ever say male-ism ever again. Otherwise, they will know you are simple and they will drown you in the river.   

And yes. Women compete with other women. But there is a man in a very larger corner office somewhere, counting the money he earned from peddling needful things for the beauty-industrial-complex, and that is a very important concept for you to understand.

And women aren’t born hating other women. That is a learned behavior. If I were you, I would begin seeking lady-friends immediately. When you find the right ones, they will provide you with the most rewarding relationships of your life. Trust me. 

Your subjective experiences are valid. The personal is, in fact, political. And it is most definitely hard out here for a bitch. Because you’re not really supposed to be “out.” Typically, women are confined to the private sphere. Feminism means knowing your actions are meaningful and just walking out the front door is an act of rebellion.



Never forget that. And never stop singing your truth—no matter what you call yourself.   

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

One is Not Simply Born a Mean Girl



Exactly one month ago, the Daily Mail published a predictable analysis of female behavior titled "Young women use gossip to shun pretty rivals when looking for a sexual partner." And then they explained how women are smart, diverse and complicated, living anything but a monolithic experience. 

Just kidding. 

The anonymous Daily Mail reporter led with the truism, "All's fair in love and war – and women aren’t above using  dirty tricks such as gossip and spreading rumours to get a man, according to research." 

That's right-- research. Thanks to Tracy Vaillancourt, a professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa, you might think the movie Mean Girls was re-released as a documentary. 

After studying the way 20-25 year old undergraduates react to a scantily clad peer, Vaillancourt concluded all women use "indirect aggression" to police the sexual behavior of others. This includes laughing, eye-rolling, and statements suggesting their adversary is ugly, slutty, or the well-known hybrid "fugly slut." 

Identifying competitors as unattractive or unchaste is how women limit "the sex." Keeping supply low and demand high, the vag becomes an all-important tool to negotiate with men, and the world makes sense-- according to heteronormativity and traditional gender roles.  

When it comes to clickbait, nothing beats bad science supporting widely-accepted beliefs. This media pastime generates headlines with sweeping generalizations, like poor people are lazy. Or millennials are entitled. Or women are bitchy. 

Once the Daily Mail struck familiar narrative gold, the appropriate reaction came from an unlikely place. Controversial new addition Bustle delivered the sharp wit and logical arguments one might expect from, well, any other feminist blog. 

Premiering as a laughable institution of mansplaining, Bustle's ability to identify and dismantle patriarchy came as a pleasant surprise. Elizabeth Brown not only questioned the data, but evolutionary psychology as a whole, with a heavy dose of sarcasm:
And if women are being nasty to other women, it must ultimately relate to the deep and almighty quest to keep them from stealing the sperm we have an eye on. Everything in ev-psych basically comes down to women's quest to get pregnant and then keep a mate, and men's desire to spread their seed far and wide.
Brown argued the women in this study were set up to react a certain way. Vaillancourt crafted her experiment to yield the results she desired. But more importantly, the Daily Mail failed to mention opposing viewpoints, which were readily available. 

Other evolutionary scientists believe adult men and women use equal amounts of indirect aggression, especially at work, or anywhere it's unacceptable to be confrontational. And with that, the study was dismissed as nonsense rooted in ridiculous sexist stereotypes. 

Just kidding. 

Last week, the Atlantic expanded these ideas in "The Evolution of Bitchiness," with more input from additional scientists. Olga Khazan even used a source Brown suggested. Unfortunately, Khazan misinterpreted the research, weaving a tale that merely supported her seductive headline. 

Contrary to Vaillancourt's methods, a psychologist at Durham University carefully considered the affects of both evolution and culture on women's intrasexual aggression. Dr. Anne Campbell's conclusion stated that patriarchal cultures treats women's aggression as unnatural, even pathologizing it, and societal constraints drive women to participate in indirect aggression instead.   

So "bitchiness" isn't really evolving, it's being socialized. And it isn't reserved for matters of the heart. But Khazan dismisses Campbell's cultural arguments, keeping her story rooted in essentialism.

Even after talking with an anthropologist from the University of Notre Dame, she remains unmoved. Despite Dr. Agustin Fuentes' insistence that slut-shaming is a social construct, and men gossip too, Khazan still ends the piece "Human nature is a bitch," re-committing to her theme. 

The next day, the Week picked up where the Atlantic left off-- offering one important reality check. Until data proves indirect aggression can successfully eliminate the competition, we cannot call it an adaptive trait. And that means it's not really evolution.

Still, Emily Shire built "The evolutionary roots of Mean Girls" around (you guessed it) the movie Mean Girls. But the pop culture reference doesn't exactly parallel Vaillancourt's evolutionary study.

While scientists said women attack each other's fidelity and appearances, this isn't how Regina George thwarted Cady's budding relationship with Aaron Samuels. By exaggerating Cady's amorous feelings, Regina painted Cady as a weirdo, and Aaron ran right back into Regina's arms.

Secondly, the movie's "bitchy" circumstances were not always sexual. The entire Burn Book was devoted to classmates admittedly weaker than the plastics. Cady even "burned" Ms. Norbury, a teacher who gave her a bad grade. These young women employed indirect aggression in every conflict, usually as a way to reassert their power.

Lastly, for all the direct comparisons to  Mean Girlsit seems the media forgot the premise of the cult classic. Living in Africa and being home-schooled did not prepare Cady for "girl world." She's unfamiliar with the rules, because talking shit and spreading rumors to achieve desired results is a learned behavior. If evolution had anything to do with it, we would all be quoting a very different movie.

Despite the many holes in Vaillancourt's theory, this never-ending story managed to stay relevant one more week, which says more about our fascination with gender-specific behavior than its actual newsworthiness.

On Monday, Businessweek asked "Why are women so 'bitchy' to each other?" while describing this skewed science as somehow empowering.

After quoting Vaillancourt's belief that her work is forcing the scientific community to take women's evolutionary traits seriously, Claire Suddath warned women that bad-talking each other will only get you enemies, not boyfriends. Yet another assertion that women's brains will forever function like teenage girls, because biology.

Supposedly, we're born this way. But bitch, bitchy and bitching are all gendered words. Openly ascribing them to the behavior society demands of women reveals more about the evolution of our culture than the women who live in it.

Unfortunately, when women's disagreements are "cat fights" and the tumultuous relationships of real housewives are "typical," those messages are internalized. Women end up believing all women act this way-- even themselves.

This distorted reality might lead a woman scientist to unknowingly manipulate her own study of other women's behavior. And this self-fulfilling prophecy might encourage women journalists to present those findings as the truth.

Unless they work at Bustle, where evolutionary bitchiness is so last month.  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Naughty Leopards, Sexy Vaginas, and Frog

Photo by Richard
A wise woman once said "Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it."

And while October nights don't seem conducive to bare skin, most women will end up scantily clad and disappointingly cliche this season.

Sexy costumes can be fun, flattering and even clever. Unfortunately, the option to dress slutty has become more like the rule.

Earlier this fall, Wal-Mart pulled a controversial costume off its shelves. Intended for toddlers, the "naughty leopard" was deemed too suggestive because of sexual connotations surrounding the language.

But this was no isolated incident. Girls of all ages are sold sexy costumes everywhere. For instance, can anyone really tell the difference between this child-sized police officer and this adult police officer? It's certainly not the amount of material used to make their uniforms.

For mothers, it can be a real struggle keeping daughters from products marketed with problematic messages about sexuality and gender.

When one mom decided to dress her daughter as several iconic women, the photoshoot quickly became an internet sensation. Her project now serves as a template, inspiring young girls (and their parents) to reject consumerism and come up with their own meaningful costume ideas.

While stores offer trick-or-treaters "naughty leopards," Amelia Earhart is a refreshing change of pace.

But that little leopard costume cut to the heart of a much bigger issue. Sexy or not, Halloween costumes for women are dumb. The ears were the only indication, amid a corset and tutu, that the "naughty leopard" was a leopard at all. And what about those lady cops? How can they serve and protect in skirts and knee high boots?

Women know, no matter what generic thing they're trying to be, the attire is short and tight, paired with stockings and heels.

But more creative websites like Take Back Halloween and the Feminist Halloween tumblr are trying to change those expectations. Both encourage women to think outside the clear packaging containing a predictable sexy nurse, sexy maid, or sexy referee. And as they take on misogyny, they're also addressing racism, because ethnocentric costumes, like Geisha, Eskimo, and Indian Princess, are sold every year.

What's worse-- people actually wear them.

These caricatures are beyond insulting. They're dehumanizing. Relying on stereotypes to inspire costumes is wrong. Mocking the identities of people corporations choose to label the "other" should not be a widely-accepted Halloween tradition.

Maya Behn, a teenage girl wanting more from the polyester providers, petitioned Party City asking for better costumes. Focusing on super heroes, she explained why women's choices were insufficient:
While men get to actually don the character's uniform, women wear dresses with character icons on them. There's no reason why women can't wear Batman's uniform with the pants. In addition, a glance at the 'women's careers' section makes it clear the only job for a woman is a prostitute. 
What a novel idea. As a consumer, let the supplier know your demands. Yes, some girls will always want to be slutty. And that's okay. But other girls want to be funny, or even frightening.

For those who remember the Mean Girls quote, Cady had an incredible costume. She was a zombie bride, otherwise known as an ex-wife, who had everyone asking, "Why are you dressed so scary?"

The Halloween-industrial-complex has replaced scary with sexy, and it's ridiculous. We've ruined a perfectly good holiday reserved for ghosts and goblins with cleavage and crotch shots.

But we've also determined that public displays of sexiness are only acceptable once a year, much the way stuffing one's face is only excusable on Thanksgiving.

Sexy isn't something you pretend to be. It's something you are and own.

You express it as an individual, all year long. It doesn't have to be extreme. It doesn't have to meet anyone else's standards. And it doesn't merit slut-shaming or sexual assault when displayed after October 31st.

But the real confusion lies in contradictions surrounding "sexy" costumes that aren't really sexy-- which is why no one ever forgets this video, or sexy mustard.

As indicated by the Girls's Costume Warehouse, when we examine a large sample of women's costumes, they range from nonsensical to insane. And they only seem to be getting worse.

No one knows this better than Daily Show senior women's issues correspondent Kristen Schaal, who took Halloween for ladies to the next level. She introduced the ultimate costume, the sexy vagina, and something tells me we're gonna be seeing a whole lot of those. Which is great, because isn't walking, talking genitalia what we were alluding to all along?

So this year, try something new. Be sexy mustard. Or frog. Be whatever you want. Just avoid purchasing something in a plastic bag, because it's probably unimaginative and offensive. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

International Day of the Girl

I think we can all agree, this year's official girl is Malala Yousafzai.

Watch this interview. Read her book. Donate to the Malala Fund.
And never take school for granted again. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Repo Rights: Sluts, Whores, and Bullies

Slut
You don't have to have sex to be called a slut or a whore. Any girl who survived middle school can tell you that. But bullies rarely consider accuracy before they resort to name-calling.

According to many conservatives, women who have abortions are sluts and whores. And women who support access to abortion are sluts and whores. Regardless of their sexual activity. 

Additionally, women who use birth control are sluts and whores. And women who support access to birth control are sluts and whores. 

Do we see a pattern? Women who believe they have the right to control their bodies and reproduction are intimidated with insults usually reserved for bathroom stalls. What used to be a predictable, not to mention hurtful and damaging part of socialization is now very political.  

In Texas, a 14-year-old girl was called a whore for the sign she held outside the state Capitol advocating for abortion. It said"Jesus isn't a dick so keep him out of my vagina."

After watching the epic Wendy Davis filibuster, this teenager was inspired to exercise her first amendment rights. Determined to keep church and state separate, she created a sign expressing her opinion.

Taking turns holding the masterpiece, she and a friend were exposed to counter-protesters so offensive police had to step in. But the real backlash came from the internet
One person said that my parents should be arrested for child abuse and in another unbelievable comment, someone suggested that my dad must invite all my friends over to "play abortion clinic."
Her father remains supportive, defending his daughter and her rights. Luckily, she has a strong role model, and a nation full of allies, while she doesn't "look up to anyone who says they are Christian but treats women the way I've been treated these past few days as a teenage girl."

Some bullies hide behind the anonymity of screen names. Others have turned public-shaming into a profitable career. But professional bully Rush Limbaugh, may finally be silenced-- or at least contained. 

Limbaugh has been losing sponsors since he called Sandra Fluke a slut. When the Georgetown law student argued birth control should be covered by health insurance, Limbaugh insisted Fluke was having so much sex, she couldn't afford birth control and that taxpayers should get to watch her have sex, if they were expected to foot the bill. 

His outrageous statements indicated how little he understood about women's health. And sponsors who knew better began to pull out

This week, Politico reported Cumulus will not renew its contract with Limbaugh. Following this story since May, the blog revealed
The host was considering ending his affiliation agreement with Cumulus because CEO Lew Dickey was blaming the company's advertising losses on Limbaugh's controversial remarks about Sandra Fluke... On an earnings call two days later, Dickey reported a $2.4 million first-quarter decline in revenue related to talk programming, which he attributed, indirectly, to Limbaugh's remarks about Fluke. 
While the satellite radio provider is ready to break ties, Cumulus affiliate Clear Channel will remain Limbaugh's conservative soapbox. But this broadcast company is currently under fire after refusing to air commercials for the South Wind Women's Center (SWWC) in Wichita, Kansas. 

Many have commented on the irony. Somehow, a media outlet supporting offensive opinion-leaders like Limbaugh found it "indecent" to say the SWWC is "committed to providing quality reproductive healthcare" or that the medical facility "trusts women to make the best decisions for themselves and their families."

Maybe the words "reproductive" and "women" have finally become synonymous with "slut" and "whore," making them unfit for the airwaves. Or maybe Clear Channel is simply opposed to women making their own decisions. 

Another form of bullying is silencing your target, with force or manipulation. The feminist group Women, Action, and the Media (WAM) recognized this immediately, and responded. 

"Women’s health care is never indecent, and everyone has the right to know where they can get medical care," WAM said. They are encouraging people to sign the SWWC petition and contact Clear Channel's general manager to reverse the decision.

The company hasn't been swayed yet. And from radio stations that suppress the truth, to hosts that spread lies, to listeners who take their hate to the streets, they're all a bunch of bullies.  

The way bullies attack other people usually says more about their own shortcomings. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't stand up to them. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Opposite of Entitlement



It's hard to imagine Questlove could go unrecognized anywhere. The very tall, very brilliant musician has one of the most famous afros regularly appearing on late night television. 

Known as a member of the Roots, Jimmy Fallon's bandleader, and now an author, the beloved celebrity in anything but threatening. However, a recent editorial proved even an  outspoken social advocate, and talented drummer, can still be reduced to a mere stereotype. 

In response to George Zimmerman's acquittal,  Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson wrote a Facebook post describing what he calls a "pie-in-the-face" moment. Re-published by New York Magazine, the most-viewed story hurts much worse than being struck with an unexpected dessert. 

Thompson begins by explaining how he purposely avoids places. He rejects invitations, not because he is averse to parties, but because he anticipates party-goers being averse to him. 

"I'd say 'no,' mostly because it's been hammered in my DNA to not 'rock the boat,' which means not making 'certain people' feel uncomfortable," he said. 

Certain people are white people. And mostly white women, as we soon find out. Seem ridiculous? Thompson thought so too.

"I mean, that is a crazy way to live. Seriously, imagine a life in which you think of other people's safety and comfort first, before your own. You're programmed and taught that from the gate. It's like the opposite of entitlement," he said. 

The opposite of entitlement is oppression. It's feeling like you don't belong, standing out in a way you never wanted; policing your actions, limiting your movements, and inevitably just staying home.  

When we discuss women and violence, we often talk about appearance, instructing them not to look like victims. But what about the other side? What if you look like a bad guy? What if your physical characteristics match what most people see when they imagine a criminal?

Women strive to appear alert and uninviting. Meanwhile, there are men walking slower, smiling more, or just removing themselves from public space so they don't seem to be targeting women. 

"My friends know that I hate parking lots and elevators, not because they are places that danger could occur, but it's a prime place in which someone of my physical size can be seen as a dangerous element. I wait and wait in cars until I feel it's safe for me to make people feel safe," he said. 

While at first this is the good-natured consideration many would expect from the man known as Questlove, his self-conscious thoughts are actually heart-breaking. While women clutch their keys, trying to look tough, this man is trying his hardest to look approachable.

Surely, Thompson can let his guard down somewhere. But his story suggests no such place exists. 

In his own building, where he eats, sleeps and pays the rent, he encountered a woman in the elevator. As a formality, he asked her "which floor"-- and she ignored him. He assumed, by her silence, she was headed his way. So when the doors opened, he said "ladies first." But she didn't get off. It wasn't her floor. She kept quiet because she was afraid of him. 

This fear is all too common-- and it has turned us into assholes. As Jessica Valenti wrote for the Nation, the Zimmerman trial was framed less as a man senselessly murdering a child, and more as a hero protecting white womanhood. 

"Yes, white women-- all of us-- are taught to fear men of color. We need to own that truth, own that shameful fear. Most importantly, we need to name it for what it is: deeply held and constantly enforced racism," Valenti said. 

Amanda Marcotte expanded on this at Slate, explaining how an all-woman jury, who many assumed would follow their maternal instincts, fell back on fear and let Zimmerman go free. 

"This myth that the world. is full of scary people who are out to get you white ladies works. Plenty of white women are so worried about the imaginary threats lurking outside their door that they don't pay any mind to the real problems that threaten us: economic inequality and lack of health care access," Marcotte said. 

No one on that jury saw Martin as a boy. By high school, he was already perceived as dangerous. From AlternetDeborah Small wondered at what age black men become a threat. 
Fearful for her grandson, a toddler who says "hello" to everyone, Small described most people as receptive, but knows it won't last forever.  

"Right now when people see him they see a cute, well-dressed little boy with a winning smile and engaging personality, his blackness is a matter of minimal significance. Unfortunately, I know at some point that will change," Small said. She's already preparing "for the day he walks up and says hello to someone and they look away in fear." 

Thompson is familiar with this reaction. As an adult, it happens all the time. It happened that day in the elevator.   

"Inside I cried. But if I cried at every insensitive act that goes on in the name of safety, I'd have to be committed to a psych ward," he said. 

Beyond the sadness, this "pie-in-the-face" is a teachable moment. It's the ultimate walk in someone else's shoes. Thompson's internal monologue following the incident sounded like this:

Those that know you know that you're cool, but you definitely know that you are a walking rape nightmare — right, Ahmir? Of course she was justified in not saying her floor. That was her prerogative! You are kinda scary-looking, I guess?
His piece is titled "Trayvon Martin and I Ain't Shit." Thompson concludes that when you look like him, you're a criminal, or nothing. And after so many years of either being closely watched or completely ignored, he's beginning to feel sub-human.  

It's time to check ourselves. Valenti and Marcotte invited white women to examine how they feel about black men-- and why. For anyone interested in doing the same, Thompson's piece is an excellent place to start. This discourse is necessary if we're ever going to co-exist in elevators-- or anywhere else.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Your Chance to See Girl Rising this Weekend




In the inspirational documentary Girl Rising, nine different girls from nine different countries share one dream; to go to school.

Each girl was paired with a writer from her country, to help tell her story. Then, the voices of celebrities like Meryl Streep, Selena Gomez, and Kerry Washington, bring these stories to life.

But the true stars are the girls, as they overcome adversity and pursue their education. As we learn in the film, "educating a girl is one of the highest returning investments in the developing world."

CNN International is airing the film this weekend. You don't want to miss it.

Magnetic and resilient Wadley lives in Haiti; her world decimated by the earthquake. Her mother has no money to send her to school. Knowing she hasn't paid her dues, she bravely takes a seat in a makeshift classroom, and tells her teacher "even if you send me away, I will come back every day, until I can stay."

Being a student improves the status, health, and safety of girls. Otherwise, they can end up enslaved, performing domestic work, raising children, or even lost to sex trafficking. The less educated the girl, the bleaker her future.

Finding comfort in song, Suma sings of her experiences in Nepal. Too poor to afford a daughter, her family "bonded" her at age of six. Even though kamlari, a form of slavery, was outlawed in 2000, it remains a prevalent reality. Suma was freed by a social worker, and now that she understands the law, she is pursuing justice for the many girls imprisoned all around her.

While sending girls to school is a human rights issue, many of the film's arguments are framed in health or economic policy. Others simply remind us what the alternative could be.

150 million girls have already experienced sexual violence, Half of them, like Yasmin, are under 15. In Egypt, with no access to school, she belongs to the streets. Just 13 years old, she is already a rape survivor. Yet she considers herself a super hero. And once you hear her story, so will you.

As mothers struggle to protect their daughters, marriage is considered a way to keep them safe. 13 girls are married every 30 seconds around the world. Azmera comes from Ethiopia, a country of "split girls." Her mother thought marriage would protect her from this fate. Her brother, knowing better, helped Azmera refuse the proposal of a much older man. Now she attends school. But others are not always so lucky.

Many cultures prioritize boys, when they are forced to choose between educating their daughters and sons. As a result, there are 33 million fewer girls in school than boys.

Yet, there are parents determined to give their daughters a chance. Ruksana, featured in the video above, is from India. She lives with her family in a tent city, far away from her village, so she can have an opportunity to learn-- and draw. If India increased the amount of girls in school by just one percent, the country's GDP would rise by billions.

Poverty is frequently the greatest obstacle standing in a girl's way. Senna comes from Peru.While she lives in a community of poor gold miners digging for other people's riches, she uses poetry to persevere. Mariana works for her school's radio station in Sierra Leone; the land of the blood diamond. In a war-torn country determined to rebuild, Mariana dreams of rising to stardom and hosting her own talk show.

However, some girls have no dreams left. Amina's heartbreaking story comes from Afghanistan. She is "a girl masked and muted," hidden beneath a burqa. In a notoriously patriarchal culture, she was considered "unworthy of record."

Married to a cousin at the age of 11, her dowry was used to buy her brother a used car, she describes her body as a resource. Shortly after her wedding, Amina became a mother. She survived, but the number one cause of death for girls ages 15 to 18 is childbirth.

While the film is unapologetically shot through a Western lens, and seemingly puts words in the mouths of the girls they follow, it's still an excellent place to start a necessary conversation. Palatable for all ages, it's an excellent way to introduce young people to global issues.

Girl Rising was created by 10x10, a global campaign for girls' education. They are spreading the message that educating girls can reduce poverty, child mortality, population growth and HIV infections, as well as curbing terrorism and corruption. One seemingly small act can have a huge and lasting impact. Sending a girl to school can increase the well-being of her family, her community, and her country.

Donations to the 10x10 fund are distributed to non-profit partners, including CARE USA, World Vision, United Nations Foundation/Girl Up, and several others working to improve the lives of girls.



If you'd like to watch the film in a theater, you can request a screening of Girl Rising where you live. Otherwise, you can see it on CNN International tomorrow, just before they release the follow-up documentary, A Girl's World, next week. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Taking 'Pride' in Everything We Do

This year's Capital Pride participants were instructed to "unleash [their] super hero," with Wonder Woman leading the way. Washington's 2013 celebration was filled with masks and capes, in addition to the usual glitter and feathers.

"Super" Grand Marshal Lynda Carter traded her gold crown for a wide-brimmed straw hat, leaving the boots and spandex for everyone else. But she still looked wonder-ful, waving from a pink convertible--



In an interview with Metro Weekly, (one of D.C.'s several LGBT publications) Carter was identified as an influential figure for gays and lesbians "who found something special in her onscreen persona of female strength and straightforward fabulousness."

Of course everyone coveted her amazing accessories; bulletproof bracelets and a lasso of truth. But what seems most memorable is the way she unleashed her super hero; with the twirl--



Carter is a resident of Maryland, where marriage equality was victorious last fall. She's been an LGBT advocate for many years:
It's been a long fight. We can make a difference if we speak with one voice. It's about coming together and looking at our nation and seeing that everyone should have equal rights.
With all the excitement, we can't forget the reason for the season. Gathering people in solidarity is reminiscent of standing together during the Stonewall Riots. We capture the spirit of Greenwich Village in 1969, and the bravery of the gay liberation movement's founders, as we wave our rainbow flags and salute our gay icons.

Activists like Jacob Wilson, a Washington resident and Pride participant, are fully aware of the curbside connections between the past, present and future. Wilson said:
Pride celebrations are a reminder of a not-so-distant past, when LGBT people were forced to the margins of society. It's a time to honor those who fought for basic human dignity, and celebrate the many victories we have won since then.   
However, Pride should also serve as a reminder of challenges our community still faces, like bullying that leads to suicide, or students being barred from their own prom.  

The freedom to celebrate openly in the streets of our nation's capital is a fairly new development, not to be taken for granted. And this action is a stark comparison to the political battles being waged within the buildings we're marching past. When it comes to Congress, marriage equality, workplace discrimination, and other injustices are far from settled.   
Also, the privilege of a parade in a progressive place like D.C. is a far cry from other places where LGBT folks literally risk their lives every time they assemble and attempt to use their voices for change.
Yet, Pride's message is clear; for all the rain, there are plenty of rainbows. And bubbles. And confetti. 

Cornerstones of the city's LGBT community were out in full force. D.C. favorites Nellie's, Cobalt, and Phase 1 rode a fleet of colorful floats.

There were appearances by the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, the D.C. Rollergirls, and more drag queens than you could shake a weave at. Each came with a bigger title-- and an even bigger tiara.

Reproductive rights partners Planned Parenthood and Choice USA were there, making the connection between open sexuality and sexual health. The only time it rained on this parade was when Planned Parenthood distributed condoms.

D.C.'s LGBT anti-violence coalition GLOV and national suicide prevention initiative the Trevor Project were in attendance. SMYAL, a support group for youth advocates and leaders, and PFLAG, an ally network for parents, families and friends, marched alongside countless other organizations who work tirelessly to promote the real gay agenda; safety, love and acceptance.


Known as one of the tamer parades in the country, D.C. experienced little-to-no nudity. While more conservative, it was still captivating, and the annual mission was accomplished. Because no matter where or how we're celebrating, June reminds us to take "Pride" in everything we do, all year long.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Megyn Kelly Reads Dobbs and Erickson on Women, Bread, and Winning

Photo by glamourmagazine

Last week, it was widely reported that women have earned a new position in the workforce; breadwinner.

Whether moms are bringing home larger paychecks than dads, or raising children without a partner, they are supporting 40 percent of America's households. And a certain group of pundits reacted with a TOTAL FUCKING MELTDOWN.

The all-male panel featured on Lou Dobbs Tonight tried to disguise irrational fear and anger with "science." They concluded "we're watching society dissolve around us" and it's "hurting our children." Women breadwinners are just unnatural, because "the male typically is the dominant role."

Fervent participant Erick Erickson shared his delusions with Lou Dobbs after sounding the anti-feminist alarm on Red State, the conservative blog where he wrote this:
In modern society we are not supposed to point out that children in a two-parent heterosexual nuclear household have a better chance at long term success in life than others. In modern society, we are supposed to applaud feminists who teach women they can have it all — that there is no gender identifying role and women can fulfill the role of husbands and fathers just as men do.
Erickson's self-righteous rant caught the attention of Fox News personality Megyn Kelly. When asked to repeat his position, Erickson came up with this:
We've got to a point in this country where you've got a lot of feminists who think that the male and female roles are completely interchangeable. That there is no need for a man to support his family. You've got men walking away. You've got women becoming single mothers. Not by their choice. You've got a lot of people thinking it's a lifestyle choice. This isn't healthy for society when we think that roles of gender completely can be interchangeable.
Clearly, feminism is the culprit. Lou Dobbs, who may or may not agree with Erickson, was also invited to discuss biological, social and economic factors contributing to the breadwinner crisis.

Needless to say, this is television opining at its finest:



As usual, Kelly only understands women's issues when they affect her. She is no feminist, but her outrage seems to resemble a "click moment." Kelly pushing back against the smug, dismissive commentary that literally surrounds her makes for a delicious talking-head-sandwich.

These are the best moments from this unbelievable cable news three-way:

1) Those shit-eating grins. Excuse me. Something tells me you're not taking this seriously.

2) "High-income lesbian families." I need you to say it again. And then I need you to explain how these women skewed the data in this study and ruined everything for straight people. Yet again.

3) "You are judging them. You are." Seriously, Erick Erickson. You are. But then we learn the truth: he can't tell the difference between facts and opinions. (Sad.) Or the difference between science and not science. (More sad. And also scary.)

4) "Just because you have people who agree with you doesn't mean it's not offensive." That's worthy of a t-shirt. Or at least a bumper sticker. And you know who would buy those? Emo liberals.

5) Then Lou Dobbs hawks an old man loogie in the background. (Gross.) And Erickson warns his phlegm-filled friend, "Be careful, Lou." Because Kelly is coming for you.

But Dobbs doesn't need your caution. He came prepared, with linear thoughts and articulate arguments. Because, YOU GUYS! The Serengeti is on fire-- and this is obviously the fault of working women.

6) We're losing the war on drugs. The economy is fucked. Men's jobs in disappearing industries are, well, disappearing. Marriages are shattering. And who is to blame? Those big-city-no-bra-wearing-hairy-legged-women-libbers. I mean breadwinners. Hey lady! Gimme back my bread...

Kelly notices her challenger starting to sound all ramble-y, like Clint Eastwood talking to a chair. But Lou Dobbs does not like to be interrupted.

7) "Excuse me! Let me just finish what I'm saying, if I may, oh dominant one." Oh, SNAP! To be fair, Dobbs just wants to be sure everyone is on the same page about broken homes leading to mental illness...

Meanwhile, Erickson is still convinced essentialism is actual science and supports his argument with anecdotal evidence. No one's going to convince him those subjective views are anything short of factual information. Not the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Columbia University, or any other study Kelly references with results contrary to Erikson's narrow perspective.

8) "These experts are politically motivated." Don't get me started on pediatrics and politics. But never mind, because--

9) BOOM! Racism. And Kelly suggests Obama is successful. ON FOX NEWS. But drawing parallels between family structures that deviate from a straight, white, patriarchal norm isn't convincing anyone. (Did we learn nothing from Cheerios?!)

Anyway, Erickson still insists working moms and stay-at-home dads are unstable. And then Kelly points out he's denigrating the choices made by others. And then Erickson looks to Dobbs for help patronizing the woman who doesn't agree with him. Yet, in the midst of all this, Dobbs is promised the last word, and we get this gem--

10) Boys from single-parent homes will never make it to law school.

So there you have it. Women with money. Ruining everything. Especially if they get their own TV show.

Monday, April 15, 2013

D.C. Vagina Monologues Help HIPS


While Valentine's Day is a distant memory, the spirit of Eve Ensler's V-Day lives on. Just recently, D.C. revealed its 2013 production of The Vagina Monologues. And as usual, it was a hit.

Proceeds went to the V-Day global fund and local non-profit "Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive," better known as HIPS. Striving to reduce violence, drug use and HIV/AIDS among people engaged in sex work, volunteers drive a van filled with condoms, clean needles and other life-saving tools around the nation's capital.

While people might not be familiar with V-Day, everyone knows the Vagina Monologues.

Looking back, Ensler claims she was just a medium, taken by the Vagina Queens. "I never outlined the play or consciously shaped it," she said. In fact, she interviewed women about their vaginas on the side, while working on her "real" play.

But vaginas demanded the spotlight and the first monologues were performed by an all-star cast of celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg and Susan Sarandon in 1998.

Beginning with the Vagina Monologue's raison d'etre, Ensler offers this explanation:
I bet you're worried. was worried. That's why I began this piece. I was worried about vaginas. I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don't think about them.
And that's exactly the point. Women's most private parts are often very public; on display, but never discussed. It was time to reclaim them with a sense of authority, and more importantly, pride.

After a few college productions and countless viewings, you could say I am vagina warrior. But I'm always surprised how each woman takes a monologue and make it her own.

This year's D.C. show had old favorites and new additions. While discussing floods, hair, sex and "down there," each woman was asked to consider her longest and most turbulent relationship; the one with her vagina.

From positive experiences to embarrassing episodes, audiences always favor the more erotic monologues. Chandler Sherman offered the most memorable interpretation of "The Vagina Workshop" I'd ever seen, blurring the line between orgasm and nervous breakdown.

Sadie Jonath dominated the stage in leather when she "reclaimed" the word "cunt." Usually this is the piece that insists on going over the top, but hers was controlled, concise, and got everyone involved.

The moaning was exceptional in "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy." During school performances, the college moan was always the favorite, confessing "I should be studying" or "Oh, Professor."

But the D.C. moans were clever and culturally accurate. "Fuck! Hurry up! We're gonna be late for brunch!" has surely been uttered by a Washingtonian or two.

Other District-specific delights were geographically influenced euphemisms for the word vagina. There was the "cherry blossom," and the "oval office," as well as "the red line," and "Mount Pleasant."

And, as usual, "Angry Vagina" stole the show. Local comedian and friend to V-Day Emily Ruskowski got all the great one liners, like "dry wad of fucking cotton.

Other monologues have a more somber tone. We all experienced rape as a tactic of war in "My Vagina Was My Village" and the wonder of childbirth through Ensler's eyes in "I Was There In The Room." New to me was the powerful group piece, "They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy," with trans women describing their childhood befores, and adult afters.

But the show doesn't just raise awareness-- it also raises money. V-Day has helped women in Afghanistan, Haiti, the Congo, and elsewhere. Each year, a spotlight monologue is performed, focusing on the chosen place and the women who live there.

On its 15th anniversary, V-Day has started a new campaign. One Billion Rising is a response to the rape in New Delhi and the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, among other recent tragedies. Now somewhat of an authority on the subject, Ensler explains,"Women don't want violence, they want love. And respect."

Ensler is fighting back against "data porn." She is admittedly tired of statistics describing how many women are assaulted and killed every year, every day, every minute. One particularly frightening fraction inspired Ensler's latest efforts: one out of three women in the world, roughly 1 billion, will suffer violence at the hands of a man in her lifetime.

After reminding audiences these abstract numbers represent real people, she ask just one favor of us. In an act of resistance, Ensler wants us to rise, and dance.



Perhaps this flash mob with a purpose will finally make a difference. It certainly couldn't hurt.

Playwright and activist Eve Ensler will be at Sixth and I on Thursday, May 2, to discuss her memoir In the Body of the World. Doors open at 6 pm.  

And V-Day D.C.'s devoted comedians will continue performing lady comedy (filled with vagina euphemisms) for HIPS. You can catch their next show Monday, April 29, at The Dunes. Laughter begins promptly at 7 pm.