Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trafficking Still Costly in 2011

This is what investigative journalism looks like:

Yesterday, the U.S. State Department released the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report. The document rates 184 countries and their reaction to the modern day slave trade.

This year 23 countries exist on Tier 3 (the lowest ranking) because their "governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so."

Business is booming for traffickers and many nations have given up, nearly doubling the amount unable to meet U.S. standards. Last year only placed 13 on the bottom rung.

148 countries have signed the Palermo Protocol, the United Nations international agreement to combat trafficking.

2010 made history when the United States finally included itself in the TIP report. After a decade of denial and judging others on an official scale, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally admitted the sale of American citizens occurs within our own borders. Since then the United States has ranked itself as a Tier 1 country, complying with the minimum standards to fight this unthinkable exploitation.

"Trafficking isn’t just a problem of human bondage; it fuels the epidemic of gender-based violence in so many places – here in our country and around the world," said Clinton, recognizing this tragic reality affects women and girls disproportionately.

She estimated some 27 million people are currently involved in human trafficking with roughly 100,000 of them living in the United States.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Big (Gay) Apple Playlist

Marriage is so gay. And in honor of the largest state win for LGBT rights thus far, my friend Matt Liasse has created the ultimate soundtrack-- featured this weekend on his incredible music blog Chaotic Tunage.

On the right track, baby,


Last night, gay marriage was legalized in New York. Below, find a gay-themed playlist for any celebration anyone with equality on their mind can enjoy.

Have a song in mind that didn't make the cut? Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments below!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday's Five Feminist Friends

1) Bitch-- A Douchebag Decree for Scott Adams and "Natural" Rape

2) Feministing investigates Racist Anti-Choice Film "Gates of Hell"

3) Ms. asks readers "Would Your Rape be Counted?"

4) Our Bodies, Our Blog-- FDA report on Silicone Breast Implants

5) Feministe wonders "Where are the Lady Rappers?"

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blow Me

Yeah. Blow in her face and she'll punch you in yours.

And it's not so much following as it is "tracking down"-- for the punching.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

This Chick Rocks: Rihanna

She's come a long way from "Pon de Replay"-- which was my jam in 2005.

A year later Rihanna was sending out a distress call from the dance floor with "S.O.S."-- the obvious favorite from her second album "Girl Like Me."

Losing her inhibitions in 2008, the world began to understand what this Barbados bombshell could really do. After teaming up with rap legend Jay-Z, splashing her way through "Umbrella" and getting a little crazy in "Disturbia," the good girl had officially gone bad.

Her edgier, sexier image came with a shocking new hairstyle and a seemingly perfect relationship. She and Chris Brown confirmed rumors of a romance by dancing together at the MTV Video Music Awards. The show-stopping performace dubbed the new couple hip-hop royalty.

But in February of 2009 the two made headlines when Brown assaulted the queen of pop.

That Fall Rihanna's fourth album was already pushing boundaries. She flipped the script with songs about unbreakable self-esteem. "Hard" and "Rock Star 101" exemplified a new confidence usually reserved for male artists.

Gender issues were aggressively surfacing as Rihanna's music took on a feminist tone. "Rude Boy" not only expressed a woman's sexual desires, but demanded her male counter-part walk his talk-- if he's "big enough."

And then "Te Amo" explicitly depicted a lesbian encounter between Rihanna and a dark-haired woman wearing leather. An startling transformation was taking place.

After a very public break-up with her abuser, Rihanna emerged as a force that only vaguely resembled Breezy's girlfriend. While Brown's career suffered, she was successfully releasing one hit after another.

With every song Rihanna grew stronger. "Love the Way You Lie" directly addressed the domestic violence she had lived through. Exploding in 2010 with powerful lyrics from Eminem, the duet was the beginning of this diva's creative healing process.

"Loud," her most recent contribution to senses of sight and sound, tackles more issues and continues to raise eyebrows. Rihanna becomes more and more controversial with every note she sings.

"Only Girl (In the World)" demands everyone's undivided attention, as do her fiery red locks. Drake joined Rihanna for the hot and steamy hook-up anthem, "What's My Name?" And "S&M" fetishizes her own relationship with pain and the press.

She said it herself-- she might be bad, but she's perfectly good at it.

But the real story concerning Rihanna and censorship came with the release of her latest song "Man Down"-- which was banned from MTV, VH1 and BET.

Bob Marley shot the sheriff; one of his most recognizable songs. Jimi Hendrix told the tale of a man willing to kill his "old lady" for infidelity; a classic rock hit. Eminem described killing his ex-wife in vivid detail on multiple tracks and his deep emotional reveal is applauded.

But Rihanna shoots her rapist in a real portrayal of gendered violence and somehow it's too much.

Industy Ears, "a new generation nonpartisan think tank aimed at addressing and finding solutions to disparities in media that negatively impact individuals and communities" called the musical confession "an inexecusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song."

However, Terry O'Neil, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), told MTV the singer is simply "working out personal issues through her art" and did not find the video exploitive at all.

Others support Rihanna's efforts but think her message is muddled by the nonlinear story. Many have questioned whether her skimpy clothing and suggestive dancing resulting in sexual assault will encourage victim-blaming instead of urging audiences to fault the rapist.

Only one thing is for sure-- Rihanna is a fearless crusader for women's rights both on and off stage. The adversity in her life has only emboldened her to test the limits and speak her mind. She continues to inspire us while topping the charts and giving women everywhere something they deserve-- a role model.

Rihanna's fluid reinvention incorporates a certain depth that demands respect. She is the voice of the voiceless-- loud, proud and unashamed. Her soulful lyrics paired with electric beats move your heart and your feet.

Six years ago she promised to make the DJ turn it up-- and she certainly has. Believing in this survivor's staying power, feminists only ask that Rihanna keep 'em coming because we all identify as the girl from the dancefloor wanting some more.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Love the Way You Lie

In response to rumors Chris Brown tweeted Rihanna a nude photo, here is the Velvet Hearts neo-burlesque performance of Rihanna and Eminem's powerful rap ballad "Love the Way You Lie."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Women and Wal-Mart: The Final Word

Photo by Eurofruit

The outcome would determine if feminism had reached a new era of advancement in the workplace-- or if big businesses would continue to marginalize women, leaving the glass ceiling firmly in tact.

Wal-Mart v. Dukes was argued on March 29, 2011. Three months later the verdict is in and "the Supreme Court has ruled for Wal-Mart in its fight to block a massive sex discrimination lawsuit on behalf of women who work there."

This reverses a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The corporation's alleged sexism is in direct violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While several women across the nation have accused Wal-Mart of failing to offer them equal employment opportunities, the high court decided these injustices were isolated incidents.

Any similarities in the stores' (seemingly unfair) practices were merely coincidental.

After a spring filled with speculation and uncertainty, the Supreme Court agreed a class action suit would be "too big" and evidence was "too vague" to proceed. The trial could have involved 1.5 million women, costing Wal-Mart billions of dollars in damages.

The plaintiffs can still file their claims independently-- and settle for significantly less money. But the individual outcomes are unlikely to influence future policies.

Even though Wal-Mart training materials said men seek promotions more aggressively, and there are consistent wage and promotional gaps between male and female employees reflecting this self-fulfilling prophecy, the judges said they could not find sexist policies in place.

Five members of the bench upheld the interests of big businesses while four appeared to be on the side of civil rights. Justice Scalia wrote the final opinion stating the class did not have common questions of law or fact.

But Justice Ginsburg said the cases were obviously related-- "Wal-Mart's delegation of discretion over pay and promotions is a policy uniform throughout all stores." Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayer, and Stephen Breyer were in agreement.

While no Republicans have commented yet, Democrats are disheartened, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) who offered this:
Today’s ruling is yet another bad decision from the Supreme Court for women, and I am very disappointed. It is a blow not only to the employees who filed this lawsuit, and have been fighting for equal pay for over 10 years, but to the millions of women across the country facing workplace discrimination every day. This decision is about fairness, about the world’s largest private employer paying over a million women less than their male counterparts — and while it is certainly a setback, we will continue fighting.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said "Today's ruling underscores the need to act boldly and strongly on behalf of women's rights." Representatives like DeLauro promised they will continue to pursue the Paycheck Fairness Act in an attempt to remedy this unfortunate situation.

Down, but not out, former Wal-Mart employees Christine Kwapnoski and Betty Dukes have vowed to keep fighting.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In Defense of Sex Work and Feminism

This piece was submitted by a faithful reader--

I am a stripper. A feminist stripper.

Much thought has gone into my past five years in this line of work. I could write an entire thesis about why I do what I do. Never has it conflicted with my personal and/or feminist convictions in any way. In fact, I would love to enlighten people about my job, the incredible women I've met, and the very positive things I've taken away from it.

I'd also appreciate an opportunity to debunk any harmful stereotypes.

Over the years, I've become pretty close with plenty of my co-workers: women who served in the Army; women who are Pre-Law and about to graduate with honors; Paralegals; women with multiple college degrees; women working in group homes; women on the verge of being published; and countless loving, devoted mothers.

Last but not least, I had the privilege of meeting a fellow feminist stripper. This college-educated, brilliant and funny woman minored in Art and majored in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. She single-handedly created a group called "Stripper Army," and recently published the group's first 'zine.

Then there's me. Define me however you like, I know who I am.

I am an unapologetic advocate for sex worker's rights. Sex work is an umbrella term, coined by the activist Carol Leigh in 1980, covering strippers, phone sex operators, dominatrices, porn starts and prostitutes.

Prostitution is particular case. It should be legalized and regulated to keep the women as safe as possible.

As a feminist stripper, I do not judge or shame the women having sex for money. My only complaint arises when women prostitute themselves from within the club-- do that on your own time, please.

The economy is down, it affects everyone and strippers don't make nearly as much as people think. It's a struggle. 

But I'm not trying to compete with that. Why would a "gentleman" purchase a plain old dance if he could get a hell of a lot more for the same price?

I was inspired to tackle this subject by someone who recently asked if I'd be interested in joining a call-girl service since he had a "hook."

"It's not some dirty ass place, it's high class, it would mostly be basketball players."

He also said it's just a step beyond dancing. While both professions are stigmatized and most people (comfortable in their ignorance) see them as one in the same, let me assure you, it's not.

I have nothing but love for prostitutes. But for me, the step is not so small.

I've been offered a lot of money to simply touch my breasts, and declined. I've been offered thousands for parties in hotel rooms or "private shows." Again, I declined.

I've been accused of being a prude stripper, but prostitution just isn't for me.

But that's the beauty of feminism-- I draw the line when and where I want. I can use my body however I see fit and make choices based on my own comfort level. Others are not so lucky and that's why feminism is anything but over.

Women all over the world, especially in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, are being kidnapped and trafficked, facing a lifetime of physical and sexual violence.

Women are stoned to death in the Middle East and elsewhere for being raped, or "dishonoring the family name." More forgiving parents force these "tainted" victims to marry their rapists.

Female genital mutilation is illegal in most places but still regularly practiced. Young girls are forced to partake in crude surgeries where their vaginas are mutilated in various ways with unsanitary instruments (like razor blades) without anesthesia.

In the United States women's reproductive rights are constantly threatened by Republicans, Christians, and the pro-life agenda. The freedom granted by Roe v. Wade is anything but guaranteed and access to birth control and abortions are becoming a class privilege.

Autonomy over one's body is a luxury many women are not afforded. But every woman deserves consent, sexual pleasure and contraception. Until this is our reality, feminism is far from dead.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday's Five Feminist Friends

1) The Fbomb-- Some advice from a Dusty Third Worldling

2) BUST-- Sign up for Feminist Summer School (in the UK)

3) Jezebel-- Could a Mom have written Go the Fuck to Sleep?

4) Towards Harmony-- Confessions about Body Image

5) Gender Across Borders-- UN approves LGBT Rights Resolution

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Work Hard, Look Cute

At long last the relationship between housework and appearance is revealed. I too, thrive on cooking, cleaning and dusting-- therefore I am super cute.

Apparently hardworking women can live off cereal and nothing else.

Well even when I do, my cereal of choice is Cinnamon Toast Crunch-- mostly because those crazy squares have no gendered expectations concerning what I will use my vitamins for.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Do We Need a National Man Day?

Happy National Man Day!

Yes-- it's a thing.

Two years ago the Longanecker brothers dubbed June 15th "National Man Day" with the help of Facebook and even started a petition to get it on the calendar.

While campaigning the brothers told an Indianapolis reporter it was a day to chop wood, drink beer, eat steak, watch Rambo and scratch. One brother said this about his new favorite holiday;
The other 364 days a year are when you be a man, be a good dad, go to work on time. You take responsibility for everything," said Josh Longanecker. "Man day is that one day a year to give men that outlet they need.
Ohhh, I get it-- on National Man's Day you get to be a bad dad and come to work late. But then what about people who are already doing those things?

The official Facebook page confirms National Man Day is about violence, destruction and heteronormativity, insisting it's time to quit being a sissy and "take back the crown of masculinity."

Ahhh, patriarchy metaphors.

National Man Day has its own website complete with bad science encouraging men to reassert their God-given authority and defend their actions with nothing more than testosterone. A "doctor" specializing in essentialism assures readers masculinity is the opposite of shame and men should never have reservations when demanding exactly what they want from their bosses and women.

There's nothing wrong with celebrating the things that make you uniquely you. And there's nothing wrong with celebrating a shared experience with others. But dedicating an entire day to stereotypes and nonsense is counter-productive.

But what about all the stuff women get?

Women's History Month happens every March to make up for the fact that women have been all but erased from American History. Dedicating 31 days to learning about women's accomplishments teaches students that "Women's History" is more than Betsey Ross sewing a flag and Amelia Earhart flying a plane. It's valid and necessary.

International Women's Day, also happening in March, is a "global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future." Surely no one would begrudge the women of Egypt, China, Darfur, Brazil and every country around the world one day to come together and dream of equality.

These existing days prove there a time and a place to celebrate gender-- if your gender has been oppressed based on the notion that its somehow inferior.

National Man's Day is ridiculous and undeserved. According to the National Wildlife Federation its also Nature Photography Day-- and hopefully most people would rather celebrate that on June 15th.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

License Plates Fund Pro-Life Agenda

Photo by woody1778a

"Choose Life" has a simple message with an even simpler goal-- sell license plates to fund pregnancy crisis centers across America.

President and Founder Randy Harris started the campaign in the 90's. Florida was the first to sell the license plates with Governor Jeb Bush signing the legislation in 1999. Since then the state has sold over 338,221 plates, raising more than $7.7 million to talk women out of having abortions.

Half of the United States are already selling the license plates.

Last week, North Carolina joined the list of states where the "Choose Life" license plates are available. For an additional fee of $25 at the DMV, residents can tell the world they're anti-abortion and $15 will go to the state's pregnancy crisis centers.

The "Choose Life" website offers an interactive map where visitors can see whether the license plates are available in their state. Ohio even lists the recipients of their money. Almost $12,000 goes to the Pregnancy Decision Health Centers in Franklin and Fairfield counties. These "health centers" feature prayer lists with cases like this;
14 yr old; had ultrasound; is 18 wks; is being pressured by her mother to have an abortion even though she does not want to do this; she said her abortion is scheduled for this Monday or Tuesday; please pray the image of her baby and the message she received with us will touch her through the Holy Spirit.
Funding supports religious institutions imitating medical establishments.

These "health centers" refuse to discuss abortion as an option. If a woman mentions she is considering terminating her pregnancy, volunteers (not nurses or doctors) will try to talk her out of it with an ultrasound and "abortion consultation," which could also be described as guilt, intimidation and misinformation.

Here's another example from the scrolling prayer list;

Woman had ultrasound appointment; declined to come back; had abortion consultation this past Saturday; please pray she will call or come to our office for assistance.
Assistance means convincing her not to go through with it-- because a woman's choice shouldn't be respected. One of the biggest decisions of her life should be left up to a bunch of strangers. And the first place she should go for reproductive help is a fake medical facility full of lies and manipulation.

It's completely unnacceptable that half of the United States are allowing money from a mandatory government procedure to be siphoned off for these Pro-Life endeavors.

Pregnancy crisis centers, no matter what name they're operating under, are dangerous and should be illegal. And they certainly shouldn't be receiving any financial support through the state-- especially when Planned Parenthood and people who tell women the truth are being stripped of their funding.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sex Scandal Summer

Photo by David Boyle

It's a cruel, cruel summer for politicians, their significant others, and the "other" women they have sexualized and objectified.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, had a long, eventful affair with his housekeeper of 20 years. In October of 1997 Mildred "Patty" Baena gave birth to their secret love child Joseph.

Schwarzenegger's "public" family found out in May (along with everyone else) as the shocking news broke.

This isn't the first time the Terminator has found himself in hot water for questionable behavior. When campaigning for Governor, several women accused Shwarzenegger of groping them or otherwise acting inappropriately.

Once she learned of the relationship, wife Maria Shriver separated from the movie-star-turned-politician.

Christopher, a son she shares with Schwarzenegger along with three other children, was born just five days prior to his half-brother. Baena and Shriver were pregnant at the same time while Baena worked in the Shwarzenegger home.

Commentators jokes focused on both Baena and Shriver's appearances, suggesting Baena was less attractive than Schwarzenegger's wife who was already an acquired taste-- especially without make-up.

Then on the East coast, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former chief of the International Monetary Fund, plead "not guilty" to attacking an employee in the Sofietel hotel in New York City, while prosecutors said DNA evidence on her clothing proves otherwise. Strauss-Kahn allegedly forced the 32-year-old woman to perform oral sex when she attempted to clean his suite.

Pundits and comedians couldn't help but liken the unthinkable situation to the IMF "fucking" developing countries all over the world-- an obvious and unfortunate metaphor.

Several women used Strauss-Kahn's trial as an opportunity to demand better working conditions for those in the service industry. This is not the first time a woman has been assaulted on the job by a guest.

''Some rich people think that because we work at a hotel we are poor and that we would sell ourselves for a few extra bucks,'' said Lena Thompson, who has worked in the Plaza Hotel for 14 years. ''I am a room attendant, not a maid. I work with integrity to support my family.''

Strauss-Kahn was released from jail on a $1 million bond and the trial will proceed in July.

Also in New York, democratic representative Anthony Weiner has become a walking punchline after tweeting photos of his "weiner" to several younger women. Many fellow democrats calling for his resignation. President Barack Obama admitted he would resign if he was in Weiner's situation. According to experts at the Hill, he is expendable and Nancy Pelosi wants him out to regain democrat's momentum with Medicare.

Weiner's sexting occurred before and after his marriage to Huma Abedin in July of 2010. Abedin is the Deputy Chief of Staff and Aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Rush Limbaugh recently insisted Weiner's infidelity was caused by hanging around women who attack masculinity and testosterone. Men who feel like "weak, worthless, wimp, sissies" can blame liberal women-- and then cheat on them to try to regain their manhood.

Limbaugh's logic is obviously flawed. Weeks earlier Shwarzenegger was making headlines for his own sexual shenanigans drenched in hypocrisy as an outspoken republican committed to "family values."

While Limbaugh's suspicions are biased and apologetic, the rest of us may have learned something this summer.

Cheating and sexual misconduct cannot be cut by party lines. It can't be determined by city, country, or even continent. It's a social issue that continues to affect everyone equally.

When people question whether feminism is still necessary, this is a fitting example why it most certainly is.

But when men who supposedly support women's issues treat women like means to an end, it feels different. It's not that they've committed a greater offense, but it's more disappointing.

The common thread throughout each of these scandals is that no matter how progressive their agenda, powerful men feel entitled to women, their attention and their bodies. Paired with the meager numbers of women in business and government, it's difficult not to feel like the weaker sex.

Extensive media coverage of one terrible incident after another just adds insult to injury.   

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More Badvertising

Quiet down everyone! 

These girls are talking about tampons-- you know, invisible sanitary protection.

And I was super curious what "the blonde" had to say, since she's apparently wearing tap shoes with her swim suit.

Yeah. That girl's really got it going on.

Use tampons. Keep your secret safe. And identify yourself by your hair color.