Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday's Five Feminist Friends

1) Yes Means Yes: Lara Logan Speaks Out

2) RH Reality Check: They're Coming for Roe

3) Akimbo: Speaking for Women at the UN

4) Ms: Watching the Royal Wedding-- While Feminist

5) BUST: New Queen on Ru Paul's Drag Race

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Really Gay Advertising

Who would have thought the past could be so progressive?

The rumors are true--
Ovaltine will turn you gay overnight.

"How did your Grandpas meet?"
"On a gay cruise."

Group showers. Enough said.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bathroom Politics and Chrissy Lee Polis

Originally published in the BG News Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Photo by AdamL212

Last week’s “Rainbow Days,” a University celebration honoring LGBT persons on campus, were fun-filled and action-packed.  A visit from the hilarious Bryan Safi of Infomania’s “That’s Gay,” Delta Lambda Phi’s incredible drag show and the always awesome Queer Prom were among a plethora of events that had everyone tasting the rainbow like a bag of skittles.
Last week was also pretty lively for LGBT news. 
As California fought to include queer activism in the state’s history books and Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he would channel defense money into the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act, a YouTube video of a trans woman being attacked in a fast food restaurant went viral.  
And as the footage revealed; no one would help her.
“Everybody in that McDonalds sat there and watched me get hurt,” Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, told ABC News.
One employee filmed the incident, laughing as 18 year old Teonna Monae Brown and her 14 year old accomplis savagely beat Polis.  The confrontation started in the restroom and the aftermath lasted over 5 minutes. The video showed the victim being dragged across the floor by her hair, repeatedly punched and kicked near a trash can until she had a seizure.
Polis recalls the women yelling “that’s a dude and she’s in the female bathroom” and spitting in her face.  She was fully aware witnesses were filming rather than assisting her.  One employee even warned the attackers to run before the police came, holding the door open for them.
But the assailants were arrested and brought to justice.  Both women were charged with one count of first degree assault and two counts of second degree assault; an additional count for striking Vicky Thomas, 55, the only person who attempted to step in.
Thomas attended the rally held outside the same McDonalds in Maryland where she admitted she didn’t know Polis was a trans woman, but felt her gender identity was irrelevant because no one should be subjected to the violence Polis endured.
Despite her many supporters, Polis is afraid to leave her house since the ordeal.
McDonalds fired the man responsible for the sickening video and said “There’s no room for violence under the golden arches and we strongly condemn this brutal assault” in an official statement.  But no further action has been taken against the manager or other employees who stood idly by, even though the video clearly depicts McDonalds personnel encouraging the fight.
Despite the company’s insistence they are “doing everything possible to make sure the right thing is done,” McDonalds doesn’t appear to “share their customers’ concern.”  Feeling this limited action is unacceptable, has responded with an internet petition demanding all employees on duty be terminated because of their despicable behavior. 
People are outraged, signing the petition and demanding what happened in the town of Rosedale on April 18 be treated as a hate crime.  And several advocates are taking this opportunity to address the marginalization of the trans community.
Maryland’s anti-discrimination legislation, House Bill 235, hoping to protect transgender persons in the areas of employment, housing and credit, died in the Senate earlier this year.  State Senate President Mike Miller called the bill “anti-family.”
Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk, the lead sponsor of the bill, insisted it was more about civil rights than endangering families.  Had the bill passed, it would have “raised public awareness of the issue and paved the way for complete protection for Maryland’s transgender population."  
In the midst of this tragedy, and Maryland’s political struggle, I can’t help but remember the One Bowling Green campaign.  While ordinances 7905 and 7906 offered protection for the LGBT community, as well as veterans, pregnant women, and others from housing and employment discrimination, the issues quickly became a matter of “bathroom politics.”
The opposition was obsessed with the notion of “perverts in the restrooms.”  Suddenly, ensuring citizens couldn’t be fired for their gender identity, or denied a home because of their sexuality meant the city was giving pedophiles a free pass to hang out near toilets frequented by children.  Much like reactions in Maryland, One Bowling Green was labeled “anti-family.”
But political rhetoric is predictable, compressed into quotes or sound bites for the local media.  It becomes an entirely different evil once consumed and regurgitated by the people of the city. 
During my work with the organization, I witnessed real life transphobia.  Citizens walked out of their way to avoid me.  They told me to stay away from them, as if intended to harm them with my pamphlets.  Mothers screamed they had to protect their children.  I’ll never forget the woman whose voice shook as she explained she was voting against the ordinances because she “had a daughter and had to do what was right.”  
Yet how would she feel if her own daughter grew up to fit somewhere in the LGBT acronym? 
Really, it’s not children anyone should be worried about.  Children are not being beaten to a bloody pulp in McDonalds with little to no reaction from the people around them.  The nation is in agreement that children should be safe and permitted to enjoy their happy meals in peace.  Now it’s time to extend the same protection to everyone.
To be clear, who uses which restroom is determined by social norms, not the law.  But public bathrooms are often a cause for concern for members of the trans community.  A trans woman puts herself in danger when she is forced to use the men’s room.  Apparently, she also puts herself in danger when she uses the women’s room.  And as you read these words, there’s a trans woman in Rosedale who knows she puts herself in danger every time she leaves her home. 
After witnessing what happened to Chrissy Lee Polis, it’s time to do something about it.  The United States must commit to keeping the trans community safe from discrimination and hatred.  Using a public restroom is a human right and should never be a source of anxiety for anyone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Total Drag (Show)

Delta Lambda Phi, the progressive men's fraternity, hosted the best drag show ever for BGSU's "Rainbow Days."

Visited by Britney, Christina, a gaggle of Gagas, and (the one and only) Sandra Dee-- this event made my year.

Special thanks to Deja for being the hostess with the most-est!
You keep on dancing til the world ends.

And to all the ladies (and gentlemen) who participated, we are eternally grateful for the spectacular (and memorable) evening you helped create.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rainbow Days: That's Gay

The keynote speaker for BGSU's "Rainbow Days" was Bryan Safi-- the incredible host of Infomania's "That's Gay."

Here's what he had to say:

Safi was hilarious.  (Yes, that's me laughing in the background.)

As indicated by these first few minutes, his presentation was topical, informative, poignant and witty.

While the government may hate Safi, BGSU certainly doesn't-- and we're so glad he could be a part of our LGBT celebration last week.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

For the Love of Women Bloggers

Originally published at Towards Harmony on Friday, April 15, 2011

Photo by Ed Yourdon

Women's Voices!

(Prathm blogs from Ahmedabad India)

I have been wanting to write about this for a long time, but never was able to structure my writing enough. Now I am going ahead for fear of never writing about this because of not being able to structure my thoughts.

I am an ardent fan of TED and I believe in the new age, with alternate forms of media and mass communication such as TED, blogs and YouTube. If you look at my blog list you will see that there are many blogs with names indicating feminist viewpoints.

I thought the Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women was an incredible initiative. When I saw Courtney Martin's Reinventing Feminism I discovered a world of such initiatives (check out my blog roll). Martin is one of the editors of the blog Feministing ; a blog for feminist writers and activists.

I know many people think feminists are men bashers, but hey-- there are many women out there who need bashing too.  Look at Sarah Palin advocating against abortion and contraceptives and preaching abstinence and our own Poonam Pandey offering to strip for the Indian cricket team. (Just Kidding!)

So its not about bashing, its about bringing an inclusive perspective to things- - policies and constitutions that include not only women but people of colour, different religions and origins as Martin rightly says in her TED talk.

In spite of how much the world has changed for women, we still live in a society which has pretty stereotypical images of women and men. Media, movies and advertising propagate a misogynistic view of things. Anita Sarkeesian has an interesting video blog called Feminist Frequency where she analyses and criticizes pop and media culture that stereotypes and objectifies women. 

A special thought here for my Women's Writing teacher in St.Francis - Secunderabad who inspired us to analyse Indian media for female stereotyping 10 years back.

Indian media, Bollywood and advertising objectify women everyday. Women are eye candy on Axe ads, they are offering sex to men with phones, waiting patiently at alters while their grooms are driving their favourite cars and so on. The image of women that Bollywood throws at us everyday is repulsive, scantily clad damsels in distress ready to jump into the arms of the MAN.

Anyway what I wanted to say was that women writing about media, public policies, movies, as well as their lives and challenges is important.  It's necessary to see their perspective and this perspective is essential for the world to develop a gender sensitive society and Internet blogs and videos are an excellent medium. 

So Women writers around me, you inspire me everyday. Write away! Hurray to women blogging!

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Tuesday, BGSU's week-long LGBT celebration "Rainbow Days" featured the hilarious and adorable Bryan Safi.

Safi keeps a watchful eye on the media for Current TV's extra snarky segment "That's Gay."

He covers everything from Gayngels to "no homo" to coming out and Gay Best Friends--

And speaking of Current TV awesomeness...

Are you missing Sarah Haskins and "Target Women"? 

Never fear, Erin Gibson is here! 

As we continue to use contraptions for beauty and birth control for everything but preventing pregnancy, it's time to accept being targeted by advertisers (and everyone else) is just part of being a modern lady.

This "Modern Lady" is keeping tabs on Wal-Mart and beer ads, and Bikini Season--

Wondering what awesome paired up with awesome looks like?


Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday's Five Feminist Friends

1) Bust and scientific fat hatred in fashion

2) Gender Across Borders and badvocacy of sex trafficking

3) Womanist Musings introduces everyone to Identity Exposure

4) Say It Sister and the war on the poor.

5) My new favorite blog is The Abortioneers

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Midol Helps

Cure bitchiness with Midol! The menstrual distress specialist will end your PMS.  

"When you feel good, you're good to be around." But when you're all hysterical and moody during that time of the month, you're kind of a cunt.

So "be the you he likes." Keep your gross period stuff to yourself. And don't forget to take your Midol. 

Yeah, Midol is an antispasmodic. But so is cannabis. Which also improves irritability-- without being so offensive. (Just saying.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Refracture: An Abortion Film

Originally published in the BG News Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Image created by Brian Rutter

 It’s not often I get to attend a movie premiere.  And it’s not often I get to indulge a movie about abortion.  So you can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a Facebook event promising both right here on campus.
The open invitation posed the question-- “where do you go to have the abortion conversation?” 

And “Refracture: An Abortion Film,” was offering itself as the obvious answer.  Paired with an ambiguous title, the 20 minute exchange of ideas enticed students and faculty the same way popular motion pictures lead viewers to the box office—pandering to their curiosity.
Anyone with access to a dictionary could tell you “Refracture” means “to alter by view through a medium.”  And that is precisely what filmmakers Katie Breidenbach and Alicia Riedel were attempting to do. 
But “refract” can also mean to deflect from a straight path.  And that would be a more accurate description of what happened in the Union theater Sunday evening.
Whether the film’s original vision was political, spiritual, artistic, or something entirely different is unknown.  Perhaps it aspired to be all that and more.  The opinions expressed were those of individuals “sharing their professional and personal experiences with abortion in the United States.” For those who wanted to gain insight and reach an understanding, it seemed like a great jumping off point.
The Facebook page created to promote “Refracture” said this:
Using the exact words of nearly thirty real people, Refracture: An Abortion Film breaks open the abortion debate as never seen before.  Seven actors strive to accurately portray this multitude of opposing perspectives on abortion and, confined to a single room, begin a crossfire of intense dialogue that illuminates one of the biggest controversies of our time.  All that’s left is to listen.
I’m frequently writing about reproductive rights and abortion has reached a fever pitch. 

Citizens and lawmakers have divided the country into teams supporting life or choice, labeling the opposition inhumanely against whatever it is that they themselves are advocating.  There’s no space for civil dialogue, just confrontation in the form of public protest. 
Breidenbach and Riedel took on an ambitious project and I applaud their efforts.  In fact, I would support a real discussion where perspectives similar to the ones they represented came together and talked through their differences. 
But this film quickly confirmed what the skeptics had known all along.  Representations of abortion are difficult and tend to justify the beliefs of their creators, whether they mean to or not. 
“Refracture” focused on emotional responses rather than factual information, so I hesitate to call it a documentary.  Each monologue is layered in such a way that no character actually addresses the other’s concerns.  And misconceptions hang in the open completely unchallenged.
Breidenbach and Riedel never claimed to be journalists.  They made no promises to investigate the testimonies they gathered.  However, there were several factors, perhaps unintentional, pushing this movie further from objective observation and closer to blatant propaganda.
The imagery affiliated with the film was a broken flower split in half, torn in two different directions.  Flowers are often used as a metaphor for women’s sexual purity and this could be seen on the screen as well as the program.  Additionally, the duality suggests an either/or decision, over-simplifying a very complicated issue.  If pulled in one direction, you support abortion.  If pulled in the other, you are opposed.  Middle ground is non-existent.
The music was uneasy and provoked tension at a heightened level for the duration of the film.  Instigating auditory panic doesn’t set a tone for conversation or understanding.  And somber notes better accompanied words like “genocide” rather than “empowerment.”
Beyond these elements, the presentation of the perspectives seemed to lean in a particular direction.
Referring to a pregnancy center volunteer as a “nurse” gave a religious entity medical credentials she simply doesn’t have.  The website for Toledo’s pregnancy center confirms “a laboratory quality pregnancy test” will be administered by “a kind peer counselor”-- not a nurse. 
And the non-nurse in the film claimed she only wants to “help” women.  Yet the “pro-life” position of the pregnancy (crisis) center is also spelled out online.  While the facility says it will present women with all of their options, they “do not refer for abortion, but we do have vital statistical and anecdotal information to share.  As with any medical procedure, it's important to make an informed choice.  We can be the first step in the crucial decision making process. We'd love to help.” 
In other words, they’d love to talk you out of it—and a positive pregnancy test followed by an ultrasound is just the way to bully young women into continuing an unwanted pregnancy.
Meanwhile portrayals of the “pro-choice” voices became overly-dramatic and stereotypical.  While their opponents remained cool, calm and collected, those advocating women’s rights were excitable caricatures as seen through the eyes of the “pro-life” movement.   
And their quotes were extracted in such way that it was unclear who or what they were talking about.  As one abortion proponent attempted to discuss clinic violence, it was never mentioned that “they” were the religious extremists attempting to forward their “pro-life” agenda with threats, harassment, and worse.
Lastly, suggesting the audience “just sit back and listen” discourages critical thinking, as if this whole mess could been handled in under a half hour.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.
I’ll be the first to admit personal bias is nearly impossible to stifle.  Seriously.  I write columns. 
And again, the directors may not have realized their own viewpoints were dominating their medium. 

But the notion of real dialogue was a step in the right direction that I wholeheartedly endorse.  So I thank Breidenbach and Riedel for thinking outside the box and I would only encourage more meetings of the minds in this heated social arena. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Urban Nu-sense and Climbing PoeTree

Yesterday we met Natural Di'saster.

This is her collective, common-unity and movement:

Wednesday is your last chance to witness urban nu-sense until next year.  And they're going out with a bang.

The event starts at 8 pm and these are her special guests:

April is National Poetry Month.  So get to the Clazel to release your inner poet and help support all urban art forms.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Meet a Falcon Feminist: Natural Di'saster

If you're assuming a woman known as Natural Di'saster has quite a story to tell, you won't be disappointed. This mohawk-ed slam poet runs an activist community known as "urban nu-sense" that takes over the Clazel once a month-- but more about that tomorrow.

Today, we're going to talk about double indemnity and Natural's own feminist journey that led to her BGSU:

Regularly appearing at all things awesome, Natural has a way of making a good event even better.  For instance, she performed this original song for OWI's Take Back the Night in October:

But Natural does her own thing.  (Naturally.)

And you'll have one last opportunity to join her "common-unity" before school's out.

This week, "urban nu-sense" is hosting its final event of the season, featuring graffiti artists, climbing poetry, and (as always) an open mic. So if you want to see just what Natural and her crew are up to, or maybe share your own artistic vision, "brang yo'self" to the Clazel this Wednesday around 8 pm.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Arts and Crafts and Vulvas

Check out Kate Whittle's recipe for crafty feminism over at Unnecessary Innuendo:

So here's my knitted vulva!

It's pocket sized, for your travel convenience!

The pattern, roughly:

With some worsted weight yarn and size 8 needles, I cast on 6 stitches, increase by 2 stitches on every row until I had 14, then K 10, YO 1, K 4.

On the next row, K across. It doesn't show well in the picture, but the yarnover makes the, er, vagina part.
Then decrease by two stitches every row until you've got 7 stitches left and BO.

Single-chain crochet some fuzzy yarn around it for pubes, and crochet a lighter pink for the clit.

I'll be turning this in tomorrow with my paper on DIY feminism for Feminist Theory. My professor will be so enamored with this darling fuzzy vulva that she'll have to give me an A, right?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday's Five Feminist Friends

1) The Frisky-- defending J. Crew's "blatant transgender propaganda."

2) The F-Word-- can feminism be polyamorous?

3) Our Bodies, Ourselves-- the babies of addicted mothers.

4) Unnecessary Innuendo-- arts, crafts and vulvas.

5) F*Bomb-- for teen, "girlcott" is easier said than done.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Free for Chubbies"

Blown away by the political incorrectness, a blog contributor sent a bunch of old school advertisements my way.
I finally got around to checking them out, and they're fantastic, so I will be featuring a few in the next couple weeks.

Here is the first of many:

Dear Lane Bryant--

Even though (by your standards) I am "chubby" and qualify for a free fashion book, please take your catalogue and shove it up your ass.

Slutty Feminist

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fact and Fiction: The Campus Rape "Myth"

Originally published in the BG News on April 13, 2011

From Flickr-- t3rmin4t0r

Vice President Joe Biden is trying to make college a safer place for women. As part of a federal initiative to prevent sexual assault, as well as victim-blaming, Biden recently quoted Ms. Magazine, telling the nation “rape is rape.” There is no other kind.

And then someone stepped up for their 15 minutes of fame, calling the frequent occurence of rape on college campuses a "myth."
Who is this appalling voice of disbelief? Heather Mac Donald, a favorite “expert” for conservative news outlets who keeps busy with heartless commentary about people getting what they deserve.
Last week you might have caught her in a Fox News special report, explaining why no one should ever give money to the homeless. Mac Donald simultaneously appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, scornfully asking her audience to “imagine” the campus rape epidemic-- because there’s a greater chance economics classes are taught by the Tooth Fairy.
If 18-year-old girls were in fact walking into such a grotesque maelstrom of sexual violence when they first picked up their dormitory room key, parents and students alike would have demanded a radical restructuring of college life years ago” Mac Donald said.
Because, like the masterminds behind the “No Taxpayer for Abortion Act” tried to convince Congress, there’s real rape, also known as stranger rape or “forcible rape,” and then there’s fake rape, gray rape, or date rape—all lesser crimes not worth reporting.
But tell that to a woman who was sexually assaulted by someone she knew and trusted.
The irony is you wouldn’t have to, because most acquaintance rape goes unreported. It’s rather traumatic, labeling someone you know a criminal. Most victims feel shame and guilt, convinced they did something wrong or invited the attack.
And sadly, most victims know they will not be believed. This doubt is known as victim-blaming and it’s a phenomenon critics like Mac Donald are all too eager to employ.
There is no worse rape apologist than Mac Donald. She scoffs at any university resources, claimingevery campus has a robust sexual-violence bureaucracy which sits idle, waiting for the shell-shocked casualties of rape to crawl through their doors. The victims never come — because they don’t exist.”
She calls Biden’s agenda unnecessary and alludes to the unfair investigation of Yale’s “sexually hostile environment.” Remember how a group of Yale fraternity pledges mocked Take Back the Night outside the Women’s Center back in October? Yeah—not a big deal, according to Mac Donald.
In fact, we should know campus rape is pretend, because these days there are more women in college, “where they are free to boogie through as many drunken frat parties as they can before passing out from over inhalation of Kahlua and cream.” 
While a young woman would become more intoxicated from over-using mouthwash than Mac Donald’s beverage of choice, you get the point—slutty girls who outnumber boys in higher education think they can have it all, including cocktails and promiscuous sex.
Because higher enrollment denotes equality, rape must really be about retaliation. Mac Donald refers to Laura Session Stepp, author of Unhooked and inventor of “gray rape,” who agrees rape is merely the regret following the “roll and scream” when young women realize who is in their bed the next morning.
Mac Donald is a worthy adversary, taking time off from defending racism in her conservative publication the City Journal, to publically side with rapists. She is an official enemy of Mother Jones. And she’s beating a dead horse with her “nobody’s raping anybody” denial.
I preferred Mac Donald’s article the first time I read it, back in 2008. “The Campus Rape Myth” portrayed a crisis center where the phone never rang. And when rape did happen, it was the fault of hippies, free love, and of course, feminism. Like a Mama Grizzly before her time, Mac Donald prescribed abstaining from sex and alcohol to avoid confusion about consent and demanded colleges stop wasting money on things like women’s safety.
But really, I liked that article better the first time Katie Roiphe wrote it to preview her book The Morning After, back in 1993.
Both Mac Donald and Roiphe fixated on the “one in four” statistic first published by Ms. Magazine. This figure was the result of a 1987 nationwide survey completed by psychologist Mary Koss at Kent State University. Using the Ohio penal code’s definition of rape, the numbers of college-aged women affected were overwhelming.
As Paula Kamen wrote in “Erasing Rape,” an article supported by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the data revealed “15 percent of women had been raped, with 28 percent experiencing either rape or attempted rape. Eleven percent of women had been raped through force or the threat of harm, with 19 percent indicating either completed or attempted forcible rape.”
However, several women with stories matching the legal definition still did not consider what happened to them “real rape.” In the psychological journal where the study first appeared, rationalization as a coping mechanism to avoid stigmatization was a particularly interesting detail of the reputable survey.
But Mac Donald and others have used those subjects’ testimonies, “I never called it rape,” to dispute the factual accuracy of Koss’s findings, which is misleading—to say the least.  
Because women are portrayed as the only victims of sexual violence, roaming the streets with pepper spray and rape whistles, it’s always shocking when one of these “walking targets” says rape doesn’t happen. “She would know,” the media seems to say, “She is a woman.”
But the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, uses data discovered through a partnership between the National Institute for Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The leading statistic says one in six women will be a victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault in her lifetime-- and that 60 percent will go unreported.
Mac Donald was right. There isn’t a campus rape epidemic-- there is a rape epidemic. And more importantly, there is an epidemic of silence. But that’s what happens when victims aren’t believed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Journalist Combats Media Islamophobia

Photo: Jamie Tarabay (by Kate Noftsinger March 17, 2011)

On Meeting Jamie Tarabay--

Shortly after Lara Logan stopped reporting the news from Egypt because she was the news from Egypt, women journalists working abroad captured the nation's attention.

"What added pressure there must be on female war correspondents, living with the constant threat of sexual violence." "How brave they are, reporting from turbulent and unpredictable locations."

But that was more than a month ago. Today, when someone reads the latest from Libya, who knows if they consider the gender of the byline.

As quickly as women journalists made the front page, they were forgotten-- but not before I had the distinct pleasure of shaking hands with the toughest one you'll ever meet.

Her name was Jamie Tarabay and she didn't mess around. In 2005 Tarabay released her book, A Crazy Occupation: Eyewitness to the Infitada, covering five years of West Bank adventures with the Associated Press.

From 2005 to 2007 Jamie Tarabay was NPR's Baghdad bureau chief-- and as the feminist blog Jezebel noted, watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer to save her sanity.

After living through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the occupation of a "liberated" Iraq and more, Tarabay brought a unique perspective to her current position as managing editor for National Security at the National Journal.

And she voiced an important opinion during a controversial panel at Bowling Green State University.

Photo: Al-Marayati, Kimball, and Tarabay (by Noftsinger, March 17, 2011)

On the Panel--

Tarabay was a featured speaker for "Media Coverage of Terror in the Name of Religion," a presentation by the BGSU Journalism department. Other panelists included Charles Kimball, Director of Religious Studies at the Univesity of Oklahoma and Salam Al Marayati, President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles.

Focusing on watchdog functions and accountability, Tarabay explained how news coverage changed after September 11th. And how the public lost its faith in the media.

"It wasn't a declared war on terror, it was more of a declared war on Islam," she said. And journalists were not above the anti-Muslim propaganda.

"It was a very rapid dehumanization of customs, of people, of traditions," Tarabay said-- because it's easier to go to war with people you've "othered."

Media shortcomings can also be blamed on the transformation of news, which people are getting everywhere but the newspaper these days.When technology enabled stories to be published instantaneously, the pressure to be first meant less time spent verifying the facts.

Favoring speed over accuracy is a direct violation of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics-- and people expect it. They want their news quick, fast, and in a hurry.

When Tarabay told her audience "If this was on TV, half of you would have changed the channel by now," they laughed-- because they knew it was true.

The world is different now. Media consumers have shorter attention spans and they're easily distracted. With television's 24 hour news channels and cell phone internet access, our appetite for information is insatiable.

But we also demand entertainment, making the reporter's job harder than ever. Even the best in the business are slipping in this constant competition for the most shocking scoop with the most compelling visuals.

Photo: Jamie Tarabay (by Noftsinger, March 17, 2011)

On Islamophobia--

American coverage of the Middle East is polluted by blatant "Islamophobia." And when fear is mixed with unchecked assumptions, the United States receives incredibly biased news.

Like children creating impossible scenarios with the monsters they fear most, Tarabay watched an American anchor ask their correspondent in Tahrir Square whether the Muslim Brotherhood would join with Al-Qaeda and take over Egypt in Mubarak's absence.

"If that's where you're starting from-- if that's the knowledge base of the person asking the questions, what can you expect," Tarabay said.

The professionals citizens trust aren't pursuing the information they need. They're failing to ask the important follow-up questions. And they're doing everyone a disservice.

"Islam and terror is not a religion subject-- that's a politics subject," Tarabay said. "You want someone with a political understanding to explain why people are using religion in the name of terror."

And yet no one has. All these years after 9/11, there's still a massive gap in understanding. And people are still scared.

Photo: Kimball and Tarabay (by Noftsinger, March 17, 2011)

On Moving On--

Tarabay suggests the media start by changing their rhetoric. Or stop mistaking harmless Arabic words for terrorist jargon. The media has helped perpetuate the idea that the word "madrasah, literally translated as "school," refers to a radical Islamic institution for religious extremism.

A decade after the United States declared a war on terror, the Qu'ran is still evil, mosques are still threatening, veils are still offensive and the media continues to uphold these beliefs, rather than challenge them and seek the truth.

"There are six million Muslims in this country-- more than half of them are African American," said Tarabay.

With so many people unfamiliar with the supposed "enemy" next door, Tarabay believes it's no longer about terror. It's about immigration, assimilation and cultural sensitivity.

American Muslims, like any group, cling to their traditions because they want to preserve part of their identity in the melting pot. And people continue to distrust this scapegoat community with the help of the media.

However, a few good journalists are working hard to change these stubborn misconceptions. While Tarabay has risked her life in multiple war zones, curing Islamophobia in the United States could be her toughest job yet.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Veils, Dictators, and Virginity Tests

Women occupy spaces around the world that threaten their freedom, dignity and autonomy:


A law in France banning women's veils went into effect today, upholding the country's extreme secular attitude. Rumors suggest President Sarkozy was also hoping to boost his approval ratings-- which sank even lower, with anti-Islamic regulations.

Face-covering garments are now punishable by a $217 fine and "citizen lessons" focusing on human dignity. Exceptions will be made for welding masks, mortorcycle helmets and other non-religious necessities.

France is home to a significant Muslim population and many women are already protesting the inconsistent regulations, blatantly biased against Islam. While other European countries have attempted to ban veils in schools or government buildings, little is done to enforce these looser restrictions.

But is there not an obvious, paternal hypocrisy in oppressing veiled women to save them from being oppressed? While the state cannot mandate cultural or relgious values, can it force people to give them up?


A few weeks ago, the media met Eman al-Obeidi; the woman who burst into their Tripoli hotel room, claiming she had been raped by Gadhafi's militia.

According to CNN reports, "her face was heavily bruised. So were her legs. She displayed blood on her right inner thigh." She was pulled away by hotel employees-- later revealed to be government agents.

Gadhafi's men attempted to discredit her, claiming she was drunk, mentally unstable, and a prostitute. Last week, Anderson Cooper inteviewed al-Obeidi, who explained she is still in danger.

Captured at a check-point and held in captivity for days, she was tortured by the same troops meant to protect the Libyan people. After al-Obeidi escaped, she ran to American journalists-- who she believed would be more helpful than the authorities.

"I know I could even die, but there's something we are trying to tell the world," she said.

Once intercepted and interrogated by Gadhafi's secret police, al-Obeidi was released, only to be kidnapped and beaten again. She is constantly monitored and threatened daily.

The Libyan media denounced her for being unpatriotic and a traitor. The men she identified as her rapists are threatening to sue her for slander.

In her "conservative" Muslim society, "there's no mercy for women who have been raped." But al-Obeidi and her family are more "moderate," condemning Gadhafi's corruption and abuse of power.

She said she will keep talking, despite her fear, because she has nothing left to lose.


While Egypt's revolution was celebrated as a victory against dictators, Amnesty International is investigating more human rights violations the army committed against citizens.

Several women arrested by army officers while protesting in Tahrir Square last month confessed they were beaten, strip searched, and given "virginity tests" to verify allegations that they were prostitutes.

Viginity tests are degrading and sexist, not to mention scientifically impossible. Because the word "virginity" is not an actual medical term, there is no possible way for a "doctor" to prove whether a woman has participated in vaginal sexual intercourse. But proof is never really an issue-- the results of these bogus inspections are predetermined.

Male soldiers also took pictures of the women while they were naked. Moving from one prision to the next, the protesters were tortured and receieved electric shocks while detained by the Egyptian military.

As Amnesty International asserted, men and women should be allowed to participate in their government and activism without unlawful imprisonment or gendered abuse. Needless to say, when men are arrested in Egypt, no one administers "virginity tests."

Onlookers are concerned Egypt may have traded Mubarak for a military dictatorship.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Femininst Burlesque Visits Bowling Green

Meet the one, the only-- Viva Valezz! and the Velvet Hearts. This feminist burlesque troupe came all the way from Columbus to give Bowling Green a taste of what they've got going on down south.

Viva, a Bowling Green native, was the University's grande finale for Women's History month. And the Women's Studies department couldn't have picked a better way to celebrate this year's theme-- "Women in Performance: Stealing the Show."

After a round table discussion about empowerment and self-expression at the Women's Center, Viva and the gang took over the Clazel with sights and sounds never before seen or heard in the Black Swamp. Tassles were twirling as the crew shook shimmied all over the stage, incorporating banana splits, baked goods, and other decadent deliciousness into their routines.

The Velvet Hearts motto is simple: just be you-- the way you perceive yourself to be. Whoever, however, whatever.

While Viva prefers the classics, the rest of her variety show is fresh, fearless, and unpredictable. Working the burlesque circuit, they just might be dancing their way into a club near you very soon. But in the mean time, check out this video.

Warning: This is NOT Christina Aguilera's burlesque.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday's Five Feminist Friends

1) Feministified interprets Black's "Friday"-- Colbert style

2) SharkFu refuses cosmetic surgery as an answer to bullying

3) Gender Across Borders reviews guide to combat sexual harassment

4) Ms. counts the ways the federal shutdown will hurt women

5) Yes Means Yes-- when TUF guys cry

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bossypants: What Tina Fey DID Do

Photo courtesy of Flickr user amatern under Creative Commons 3.0

Bossypants, Sarah Palin's Tina Fey's uproarious memoir, has officially landed on bookshelves everywhere. Readers are devouring its pages and the feminist reviews are already in-- with very different verdicts.

Audrey Bilger, the Ms. authority on laughing, applauds the way Fey addresses gender in the workplace, her own body image, and sneaking feminism into Saturday Night Live.
Bilger recounts Fey's encouragement to see through the bullshit-- "You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone"-- wise words to live and succeed by.

Over at NPR, fellow comedian Janeane Garofalo had the honor of passing judgement on Fey's autobiography. Like a cranky CD realizing it's irrelevant in the age of the ipod, Garofalo sings Fey's praises while confessing her own career is practically over.

After an endless list of accomplishments, Garofalo considers Fey's notorious Palin impersonation-- "it's always been easy to marshal cultural hostility toward women. Especially in politics, where double standards and misogyny tend to dominate the conversation"-- remembering Dan Aykroyd's "Nixon" or Dana Carvey's "Perot," was never critiqued in quite the same way.

But Jezebel-founder Anna Holmes voiced less appreciation and more grievances in her review, appearing in Newsweek and over at the Daily Beast

Encouraging others to wonder "What's Tina Hiding," Holmes said "it's hard to know where her characters end and she begins." Fey's comedic style "has the unique ability to explicate contemporary gender politics without coming across as overtly political" and  "as an author, Fey takes such careful pains not to commit to a position or offend anyone's sensibilities that she comes off like one of the politicians she and her colleagues so roundly mock."

Holmes is concerned the first lady of funny is neglecting her power and influence. "Fey is in the unique and enviable position to say something important and definitive: about being a woman, about boys' clubs, about contemporary feminism and female representations in pop culture." But she doesn't-- at least not in a way satisfactory to Holmes.

Following Fey's travels from Second City to SNL to 30 Rock, Holmes is disappointed. The author on trial doesn't dig deep enough in her book-- or anywhere else. And then the truth rears its ugly head. 

'Twas was an episode of 30 Rock that rubbed Holmes the wrong way:

This past February, NBC aired an episode of 30 Rock in which Fey's character is prompted to hire a baby-voiced, busty female comic after an influential women's website,, criticizes Liz for the paucity of her show's female writers and performers. That site was a spot-on parody of, the pop-culture-and-politics blog I created in 2007.

Could it be, the original “Joan of Snark” is still peeling from the burn?

This isn't the first time Jezebel has ruffled the feathers of a likable, progressive media bird.  Last summer, Daily Show criticisms inspired Jon Stewart's ladies to pen a hilarious, yet firm response to allegations the fake news program was sexist.

And Jezebel's own feminist credentials have been openly questioned. But that doesn't mean we should be complacent with Fey's contributions to television. 
In fact, the predictable dismay of a true Jezzie touched on a larger issue in feminist pop culture. Even Holmes suspects her expectations of Tina Fey are unfair-- and I couldn't agree more.

For whatever reason, Fey has always been held to a higher standard than the rest-- including her right-hand woman, Amy Poehler. When it comes to Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope, most viewers prefer the overly-confident, waffle-loving leader of the parks department.

Slutty Feminist contributor Anthony Betori tweeted in agreement. "Liz lives in contention with patriarchy, Leslie lives in spite of patriarchy." Apparently spite is easier to support.

There's other reasons: Ron's relationship with Leslie is less paternal than Jack's relationship with Liz. Leslie is portrayed as winning, where Liz is a chronic loser. Leslie is optimistically single, while Liz personifies the hopeless spinster-- even when she's dating.

The list goes on and on. 

Poehler is effortlessly adorable, while Fey embodies all kinds of awkward. I was attempting to explain this when my brilliant colleague, Shayna Noonen (another adorable feminist) made an astute observation:
Fey is a trail-blazer. Liz Lemon opened the door for Leslie Knope. Parks and Recreation premiered three years after 30 Rock established the waters were safe for strong women on prime time NBC. And those who come later are always capable of more.
Progress is a process. Fey proved a show about a feminist-minded woman could be funny and problematizing gender norms with farce is wildly entertaining. She laid the groundwork so others could reap the benefits.
It’s not perfect. She’s still the butt of “cat-lady” jokes. And she walks around with lettuce in her hair. 

But Fey is funny the same way Vag Mag is funny. And we have to be able to laugh at ourselves. Otherwise we'll become the humorless shrews anti-feminists already believe us to be.

While Fey doesn't explicitly say anything "about being a woman, about boys' clubs, about contemporary feminism [or] female representations in pop culture," she made room for these conversations in a public forum that appeals to a wider audience. 

Rather than wonder when Fey's going to do more for women in comedy, we should be wondering when more women are going to use the space she claimed for more exaggerated gender antics.

*** Update

I just finished reading Bossypants and for the record, Fey says plenty about the sexism she encountered throughout her career. Each chapter made me laugh out loud. And as someone who's received an angry letter or two, I especially enjoyed the responses to her hate mail.

So here's the thing; Tina Fey didn't write a feminist book about comedy. She wrote a funny book about being a feminist, as well as a working mom and a hopelessly awkward girl. It's located in the "humor" section of Barnes and Noble, not "social sciences."

And if Anna Holmes wants Fey to write a more thorough feminist analysis, why doesn't she invite her to write a guest post for Joan of Snark Jezebel?