Category Archives: mentors

#outwiththeoldinwiththenew #theyearofwordsbywomen #ohhey2015

Welp. I’m starting this year out in bed with a wicked hangover because I drank too much champagne in Brooklyn last night. Thank god the L train wasn’t a total disaster and thank god for my amazing friends that I danced and sang and counted down and took photo booth photos with. There is a vegan cheese and tofu hangover cure in my future (shout out to seamless.)

leogatsby

Speaking of the future: lets talk about some goals for this year. I have one main goal, resolution, whatever, that I wanted to share with you guys. This year, I want to read more. And not just finish more books or up my word count. I want to make reading a priority in my life. I want to make space for it, remember how to delve into pages and get lost. I want to think about how words can fit in my day, take up some of the time I spend scrolling through feeds or watching TV.

Before you get all defensive, let me just say that I think that feeds and TV are just fine. I love TV, and sometimes TV is what I need to unwind. TV is also great when you are doing other things like writing a New Year’s blog post, or cooking, or other activities that inhibit your ability to hold a book and turn pages.

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But I want to take a step back and think about when it is possible for me to choose pages. I’ve started making it a habit to get up in time to read for 30 mins in the morning, before I do anything else. Before I get on the computer for work or check my email or the weather, I make my hot water with lemon and I get back into bed and read. Usually a half hour,  no more no less. It really has changed the whole vibe of my days. Starting with words on a page is much slower than screens, and it’s internal and it’s self centered and it’s quiet. It’s actually be quite transformative.

So not only am I going to make as much space for books as I can spare, but 2015 is going to be the year I read books by women. Only books by women. I want to explore beyond the big names, although of course that’s where I’m starting (Cheryl Strayed and Adrienne Rich, and let me tell you they are making my heart shine and my soul sing.) But I recently had this feeling in my gut, this feeling that was absolutely sick and tired of the way creative women are talked to and treated. It started when I read Heroines and it hasn’t abated. And I began searching for some of those ladies to sink my teeth into. I want to hear the stories that women live with, that they held inside of them and couldn’t live without sharing. I want to support the creativity of people whose creativity was not valued, was not allowed to flourish, was pathologized and stunted. I want to focus on the voices that were shushed and quieted. So far, it feels right. Great, actually.

matildareading

If you wanna make some exclamations at this point about reverse sexism or misandy, let me stop you right there. Take that somewhere else. I do not hate men, or male writers, nor do I think that female authors are better than their male counterparts. I grew up, like we all did, reading the wonderful works of the great men that make up the literary canon. Even though I had a pretty liberal education both in high school and college, it wasn’t until I got to grad school that my reading list became truly diverse. The work of women writer’s is still considered cursory, emotional, niche. It’s outside the canon. And I’m over that. I’m gonna make my own canon, and attempt to balance the scales of my life as a reader so far.

hatersgonnahate

As for reverse sexism, that doesn’t exist. Because like reverse racism, it’s impossible. Sexism and racism are not just about the personal feelings of people who judge, dislike, or outright hate another group of people. They are about systems of oppression that are enacted by entire groups in power, by the state, and by ideas and emotions that we are taught as part of our culture and world view. The largeness of these things combined cannot be overstated, and the people with the power cannot be truly discriminated against in the way the marginalized groups are. Now if we think intersectionally then we must think critically about the ways in which we all have some privilege, and the ways we don’t, and how that plays out in our lives. But what I really want to say is that my desire to read the words of women is not an attack on men and if you feel that way I urge you to consider the fact that men have never had to question if they can write, if they should write. Almost all the great works that are held up in the light are by men. The ancient, the classic and the contemporary, all by dudes. But what about little girls who have a story inside them they are dying to tell? Where can they find examples of other women who wrote and were great? How can they feel as though they have the right? How do they learn to trust their voices?

This is a fight that is, still, in 20 freakin’ 15, happening. I know for sure that to be a good writer I must be a good reader, and I know that I have neglected that. I want to make myself better, as a writer and as a human, and I want to support the voices of other women with a story to tell. I think reading books is a great way to learn about the world and to evoke empathy. And radical empathy, self love and compassion, are what I believe truly will save us all and remake the world into a safe space of social justice and community.

measureinlove

Cheers to that, and cheers to your all. Be safe, stay fly, and spread love.

Happy to be alive, 20-1-5 ❤

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You Should Never Meet Your Heros (esp. if they’re famous men)

You know what’s exhausting? When you think you know someone, and then it turns out that they were kind of terrible. This is particularly exhausting if they were famous, and talented, and everyone considers them beloved and wonderful and then BOOM, something changes and you have to rethink your whole portrait of them.

whoa

Recently it’s occurred to me that since patriarchy has been happening for centuries, I have been recalibrating my images of ‘great men’ a lot more often than great women. Because the rules for men, especially the most talented and famous, have always been ‘do whatever the fuck you want.’ As a matter of fact, we shower them with ego-inflating praise and also with things. And some of the things we shower them with are access to women, who are part of the whole package of things you get for being brilliant/pretty/famous whatever. Here now are some examples of men who, it turns out, are huge disappointments.

breezy

Exhibit A: Breezy. He was so cute when he was young, he has the great dance moves. I used to groove rul hard to Run It. And now it’s ruined. And we didn’t even have to wait until he was old and almost forgotten for his bad behavior to come to light. It turns out he is an extremely violent young man, and a batterer to boot. And this guy has the nerve to release a song with the lyrics ‘these hoes ain’t loyal’ after publicly kicking the shit out of his also-famous girlfriend. He’s despicable.

JFK

A more historical example: God Jack Kennedy was beautiful. I mean seriously. And I know we have a soft spot for icons that are taken too soon. And I do have a soft spot. But then I remember the extent to which this man was a womanizer, and the extent to which the people around him went to enable his behavior and keep it a secret and I think: how was it possible that he was the most powerful man in the world in a country that was still so vanilla and prudish and yet he managed to have almost continuous extramarital affairs? He managed to carry on with Marilyn for fuck’s sake! And now it’s a considered just an anecdote, a small part of who he was. It’s even considered charming, part of why he is so roguish and handsome and desirable. Sigh.

cosby

A disruptive piece of breaking (sort of) news: It turns out silly old comedy icon Billy Cosby has been a sexual predator for decades. And this isn’t new news. Lawsuits have been filed, he’s settled out of court, and his victims are speaking out. And his MO, for the record, includes drugging his victims. Which just, I don’t know, is extra infuriating. Think about Dr Huxtable slipping a roofie is some young girls drink. I don’t want to have to feel this way about a man who elevated the image of black America with laughter, who was TV married to the indomitable Phylicia Rashād, who wore those great sweaters. God dammit God dammit!

fitz

And, finally, my most personal of these struggles: F Scott Fitzgerald. I just finished a wonderful and searing book by Kate Zambreno, Heroines. It’s a retelling of the great men of literature in the early 20th century, and of the women who surrounded them. These women were merely plus ones to their men. They lived in service of their partner’s genius, never being allowed to flourish or explore their own talent. And the most interesting among them was Zelda. Zelda, who wanted to be a real writer. Zelda who wrote in diaries and letters, and whose words her husband generously borrowed. Zelda who also painted, and later threw herself into ballet. And her spunk, her desire to be creative, was remade as mental illness. And she has been posthumously diagnosed and written over as the crazy wife of the genius. And he helped in this. He discouraged her, he actively worked to stunt her writing career, he forbid her from using their own lives as subject matter because that was his material. And he drank and drank and shut her away, and she died in a fire in a mental hospital. She deserved more, at the very least the same encouragement and opportunity given to him. And I love Gatsby, I still love it and those words still inspire me. And I completely resent having to rethink the man who wrote some of my favorite sentences to ever have existed. I hate it.

fuckthisshit

Why? Why do we make the world a playground for these talented men? We tell them to take whatever they want, especially if it will help their art or whatever. Like fucking Picasso who emotionally abused all the women in his life and then painted them as monsters, and we told him he was great and hung those pictures in museums. We enable these guys, all of us with our accolades and praise. And we provide countless pretty young things for them to play with. But women aren’t things. They aren’t prizes in the world wide talent competition that is pop/celebrity/literary/art culture. This won’t stop until we deal seriously with rape culture, and until we hold men accountable for their actions. All those guys up there that I mentioned, their stories are not defined by the women they hurt. Their careers aren’t suffering. C Brown fans are insane on Twitter and will defend him unendingly. A convicted violent criminal, and his fans will say they’d let him abuse them and insult anyone who dares speak against him. JKF’s habits are just a footnote, Cosby is getting a new show and Fitzgerald remains a Great American Writer while Zelda’s novel is no where to be found (actually I found it, so you can find it in my apartment, but I had to special order it cause it’s out of print.) These guys continue to demand respect and inspire awe. It’s only women who are defined by their sexuality or sexual partners (Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Monica Lewinsky.)

marilyn

 

I’m fucking over it. I’m sick of having to compartmentalize with these guys. I know that people are complicated and no one is perfect and I know that not all great talents are predators. But we should be demanding a world where talent is appreciated without being overly idolized, where women aren’t prizes to be won, where sex isn’t a weapon used against the female body. I have no more patience for this shit. We need to stop excusing this behavior, we need to stop devaluing the female body and dismissing this as adolescent/harmless shenanigans. Sexual violence is not shenanigans. We all need to grow up and get serious and make culture a place of accountability and inclusion. We need to have icons that don’t require excuses.

What the Spice Girls Taught Me About Feminism (How #girlpower leads to #flawless)

I woke up from some pretty vivid dreams last night with a Spice Girls lyric in my head. And so, naturally, I used my precious iPod Nano to plug into some nostalgia on my commute. As always, once those 90’s pop tunes started playing in my ears, I wondered to myself Why the fuck did you ever stop listening to this glorious music?

spicewavingGIF

You know guys, I know the 90’s were a frivolous time. And it would be easy to dismiss this group as frivolous. But that’s a huge mistake. These ladies were a global phenomenon, and for an elementary age kid like me they were PERFECTION. They were true role models in my formative years, with delicious pop tunes and a huge campy movie and one very simple message/catch phrase: Girl Power! And you know what, it doesn’t take much to plant the seed of an idea in a child’s head. That phrase stuck with me, as did their message of fun and friendship. They may not have been perfect feminist icons (cause really, who is?) but they felt so fresh and free.

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First of all, they had those probably completely contrived personalities, which meant you could definitely relate to one of them. I loved Ginger. She was sassy, sparkly, and loud. Emma was for the cutesy girls, Posh for the fashion obsessed, and then Mel B for the black girls and Mel C for the budding athletes and/or lesbians. Something for everyone! Maybe they weren’t super dynamic, but whatever. We were 8. Their image was campy, over the top, tongue in cheek and timely.  Once you knew which Spice Girl you were going to idolize forever, of course the only logical thing to do was bond with 4 other girls to round out your group of singing, dancing, globe trotting future pop stars.

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what i really really want

Which reminds me. The most important lesson these ladies taught me was about female friendship. Their first hit Wannabe is an assertive but not too aggressive list of demands. You have got to give. If you want my future, forget my past. Now you know how I feel. Say you can handle my love. The message was basically take me on my terms or leave. It was a breezy, silly, slumber party anthem. And the most iconic lyric, the crux of it all: If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends. How revolutionary is that idea!! It sets up a hierarchy in your life, where your friends come first and your lovers second. And sure, maybe that isn’t and shouldn’t be true at all times in your life, but shouldn’t it be true for us all as young-ins? Before shit gets real? After all, your friends are the ones who will accept and love you for who you really are (whichever Spice personality that is), through all the years when you’re confused and stumbling and naive and not-yet-formed. They’re your core, your support, your stage mates. They’re the ones you harmonize with.

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When I was listening to or pretending to be the Spice Girls, I was in a girl only zone. It felt amazing to have something that was just for me and my girlfriends. And sure, they dressed pretty sexy and mostly feminine, but you just didn’t feel like it was for boys. I know there is a lot of exposed midriffs, but damnit this was the 90’s! They  mostly dressed to fit into the very marketable boxes they’d created, and blah blah blah I know that’s phony & feigned & faked but WHO CARES! They made me feel like I should dress to express myself and dance because I wanted to. Boys just didn’t enter into it.

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seeing them on tour in my 20’s was a life affirming nostalgia fest

I’m not saying the whole world should be this way, or that girls rule and boys drool (although, yea, kind of.) But for young girls, so much of the world seems off limits. I think it’s super important to have spaces that are special for them, where  they feel safe and free. And I think the message that you can be who you are without worrying about boy friends/lovers/whatever is super empowering. You know, you don’t have to make it perfect or complicated for kids. They absorb a lot without us even knowing, and what they hear at a young age sticks and matures along with them. Girl Power, as basic as it is, is enough. Sure it’s not nuanced, but it’s a good place to start!

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Oh, and one last thing. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the Spice Girls opened up some space in the pop universe for girl super groups. Their success, I believe, was a direct pre-curser to Destiny’s Child. Which means that without the Spice Girls, we wouldn’t have Beyonce. And if anyone is pushing some mature and nuanced feminism right now, it is Queen Bey herself. So Viva Girl Power Forever, never give up on the good times with your surfburt, and if you can’t dance you can’t do nothing for me cause friendships never ends and we all woke up like this.

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Women’s History Month (Belated. I know. I’m sorry.)

March is Women’s History month!!! Horray!!!

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I have been somewhat remiss in my coverage of this super fun month, and for that I am truly sorry.  Also I’m still on vacation (visiting my bestie preggo friend for her spring break shout out to Lake City and the sugar bean.) So here are some other fun things you can read for women’s history month about Gloria Steinem (who just turned 80!), some fun videos, a trans Google Hangout event from Janet Mock and other events from womenshistorymonth.gov, a shout out from Google, and…

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This super fun cool article I wrote as a guest blogger for the Association of College and Research Libraries blog, in the Women & Gender Studies Section! It’s called Mainstream Feminism: How it Works, Why It Doesn’t (Always.) A big thanks to the folks at ACRL, particularly Tinamarie and Melissa, for asking me to write and getting the post live.  And thanks to all my readers, old and new, for letting me holler at you about gender-y things, sex, love, etc. Enjoy the rest of Women’s History Month, I’ll be back next week to keep up the work of all the fabulous ladies who’ve come before me.

GIRL POWER!
GIRL POWER!
happy birthday!
happy birthday!
use your voice.
use your voice.
wake up. flawless.
wake up. flawless.

 

 

The Alliterative Campaign I Really Want to Like: #BanBossy

Listen, anything that Beyonce does I just want to rave about. Especially if she is using her considerable voice to point her legions of fans towards feminist issues. But I have what I can only describe as very mixed feelings about her collabo with Sherly Sandberg and their latest PSA to #BanBossy:

I mean, when she says “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss”, I get chills and pump my fist. But…

But. I’m not sure this is quite the best way to address this issue. After reading a whole bunch of intelligent pieces on this campaign, I think I’ve got my own thoughts in order on why this isn’t a slam dunk.

missed-dunk

One camp of folks thinks we should encourage girls to be bossy, instead of banning the term. The actual definition of bossy is ‘fond of giving people orders, domineering.’  Not exactly an endearing trait. I don’t think we should encourage anyone to be bossy. Then we will have a whole generation of corporate CEO type assholes, and I don’t see that as a positive step. (This echoes one reason some people weren’t enthused about Lean In, because it encourages women to conform to the patriarchal corporate system instead of making a new system that works better for more people. Valid.)

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More of this?

Now, assertive is maybe a better choice of word. We should encourage young women to be assertive. I have no issue with that idea at all. But banning the word bossy doesn’t really help us encourage girls to do anything. Restricting words doesn’t empower girls or teach them anything about self confidence or being true to themselves. Overall, I think it would be more prudent to encourage everyone to think a little harder before using the word (would I be using this word if she were a boy? why is this word appropriate in this situation?) rather than just banning it. Because if a small person is being bossy, we should for sure call them out. But only if it’s a warranted observation and not a gender based insult.

take a second and think
take a second and think

So I don’t think restricting language is the answer, but I’m also not advocating reclamation. What I really would like to see is a campaign that says ‘Be yourself, you are enough.’ Because the truth is, not all women are ‘bosses.’ And you know what, not all boys and men are bosses. Some people are leaders, and some are not, and that’s completely fine. We need to work towards a feminism that will advocate for everyone. I think Lean In is very smart and articulate, but it’s only aimed at a small contingent of women. What about women who want more of a work life balance, and men who want paternity leave? Why not campaign for a federal family leave minimum and a greater variety of work hours/telecommuting options?

not everyone can perform preggo at the vma's, give birth and come back swingin/collaborating w/ their life partners. just sayin
not everyone can perform preggo at the vma’s, give birth and come back swingin/collaborating w/ their life partners. just sayin.

Or if you really wanna stick to this whole leadership track (which totally is a valid track because there is a very real female leadership deficit!) why not campaign for school programs that teach leadership skills for girls, or for schools to teach feminist theory in their curriculum? Why not talk about which books we can give girls with relatable heroines, and how we can get teenagers focused away from Twilight/boys and towards realizing they are worth more than their physical beauty?

More of this.
More of this.
And of this!
And of this!
LESS of this. Ugh.
LESS of this. Ugh.

Why not feature this dope chick in your PSA, and let girls be inspired by this realness:

The women featured in the #BanBossy video are just so great. They are successful. They are confident. And they are lending their voice towards an issue that I’m sure affected them as girls and in their early careers. But why can’t they use their considerable reach and resources to create a campaign with a more concrete goal? I’m a writer, so I understand that words absolutely matter. But banning or reclaiming a hurtful word isn’t going to solve the over arching issue. I can use the terms ‘bitch’ or ‘cunt’ playfully and say I’ve reclaimed them, but that doesn’t take away their power in the wrong hands and it sure as shit doesn’t solve the overall problem of our sexist, misogynist culture. I wish they had a plan that was less hashtag-able and catchy, and more results oriented.

sadsigh

That being said, the campaign has started a conversation, and gotten people talking about this issue. And any feminist agenda item getting lots of air and page time is a win. So is the fact that recognizable faces are showing support of this idea, and to that end I must return to Beyonce. There is no such thing as a perfect feminist, and the debates around her feminism are lively and important. But I really do think that this kind of mega star, a black woman/wife/mother/mogul, being outspoken about her personal feminism, is absolutely epic and a major step forward (away from other’s who deny the label.)

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So while I think #BanBoss is catchy and well intended but ultimately kinda weak, I’m still happy to see this campaign and happy to see these ladies working together and happy to see feminism getting a positive shout out. The more we shine a light on the variety of issues our younger sisters face, the more we can help them grow into the strong, capable, unique women they will become.

amen

Here’s to the next generation of leaders, artists, mothers, teachers, students, performers, writers, readers, thinkers, athletes, creators, dreamers, movers and shakers. I hope we continue to support them and push the world to be a safer place for them (and all of us) to thrive.

Goldie Blox!: Happy Monday

I didn’t watch the Super Bowl last night (I don’t have cable, and I don’t care about football.) However, I did listen out for news about the score, and the halftime show, and most of all the ads. The MissRepresentation Project has launched a new app allowing you to call out sexist advertising, which is super dope. But there was at least one ad last night that go the #mediawelike tag instead of the #notbuyingit has tag of shame.

You may remember this video (if you are tuned into this kind of thing…) featuring company CEO and inventor, Debbie Sterling:

Goldie Blox, the toy company this video helped fund, won a contest by Intuit to become the first small business to run a commercial during the Super Bowl. Here is the ad they got for 4 mill:

Love it. Girls building things. Because there are still folks who think that gender bias is wishy washy bullshit, and that the wage gap is a result of women preferring certain kinds of jobs (which happen to be lower wage gigs) and that boys are just better at STEM. But we teach little girls and little boys a different set of rules about the world they grow up in. They are guided towards different skill sets and different mind sets, even different rules for what is acceptable interactive behavior. I can only hope that this ad is the first of many big breaks for Goldie Blox and companies like it, so that little girls and little boys can live in a world with ever more expansive possibilities.

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JGL: Comes Out as Feminist ! (GASP!)

We all remember Joseph Gordon Levitt.

Yes.
Yes.

Child Star treasure. Teenage heartthrob.

This movie stands the test of time.
This movie stands the test of time.
Precious.
Precious.

We remember collectively experiencing shock and awe while watching Inception, thinking ‘When did Joseph Gordon Levitt turn into such a MAN?! And is this real or in a dream???!!!’

That hair. That vest. That jawline. Em. Yes.
That hair. That vest. That jawline. Em. Yes.

Well, he’s officially blown my mind again by going on Ellen and boldly claiming the title feminist.

If lip synching on Jimmy Fallon didn’t already have me swooning, this sure did. I mean, it shouldn’t be such a huge deal, but we still live in a world where celebrities are avoiding the title feminist like it’s a fucking plague. And to have JGL in our camp, we’ll that’s just unreal. He is handsome, smart, majorly talented, funny and cool. People think he is a cool guy, a nice guy, a guys guy. It’s still the case that many people align with feminist goals and values but don’t use the word. Maybe even some of you. But let’s use the simple and wonderful definition from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (that Beyonce features in her song ***Flawless!) “Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” When you break it down like that, it’s hard to understand why more people don’t come aboard. Or, is it?

He gets it.
He gets it.

The media has done a lot of work to paint feminists as angry, man-hating, fun-sucking, ever so serious and ever so hairy ladies. This is basically false, other than sometimes being angry (because some aspects of our culture should make us all angry) and hairy (because everyone has body hair… duh.) One day, I envision young pop starts and box office busting actors saying ‘Yea, of course I’m feminist! [insert charming joke here.]’ Because it’s not really radical to want a world where people are treated like people first, and where women and men don’t treat each other like separate species.

Tie. Vest. Tousled hair.
Tie. Vest. Tousled hair.

A few years ago there was this article in the New York Times Magazine about how women’s issues were the moral issue of this century. I still believe that, and I think we are going to need more brave folks like JGL to step up and speak out about their feelings, and to wear the feminist badge proudly. If JGL, all charm and coiffed hair and vests, can claim the badge and retain his like-ability and cool factor, there is hope yet.

One more. Because I can.
One more. Because I can.

Miss Representation: my fav documentary featuring dope women & fabulous content

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There is so so much to say when you talk about how women are represented in our culture. This 90 minute documentary covers a variety of topics connected thematically by how women are seen, heard and manipulated in the media, and really each topic could be its own movie. However, the film does an excellent job showing us how each idea is connected by a huge web of bias and power, and this is a major step in understanding how deep the rabbit hole goes. And it’s not just about the big flashy issues like abortion or Beyonce or equal pay (although if you are not furious that women today right now make 77 cents on the dollar of men then you need a serious jolt), it’s more insidious than that. They are targeting all women, across all races and classes, and they are doing it in subtle, inconspicuous ways. And it’s affecting women, and our girls, in both mundane and profound ways, shaping our thoughts and actions when we wake up and while we are at school or at work and when we interact with other women, and with men, and the thoughts we think about ourselves and others. There were two topics that spoke to me personally, that stood out just a little more than the other also super important points. Honestly, I’d love to discuss the whole freakin’ thing in lots of detail providing my own examples but ain’t nobody got time for that. Plus it’s available on Netflix and I know you all have your parent’s account info so go watch it! And while you are munching your popcorn and becoming more informed and righteously angry with each new statistic, you can keep these thoughts in mind.

The topic that hit closest to home for me, as a story teller, was the fact that women are not given power or autonomy in the stories we all consume. In movies, on television, even in kids shows/films, there is a serious dearth of heroines. When stories are about women they are usually about finding love or romance, or motherhood. There is less variety and complexity among female characters. They are not multi dimensional. They are eye candy, they are sex objects, they are love sick or lonely. Let’s look at an example given in the documentary: The Star Trek franchise. I am talking specifically about the new movies and not any of the series (which for the record show incredible diversity and some amazing female characters in leadership roles. I’m looking at you Captain Janeway!) But the new movies focus primarily on the bromance between Kirk and Spock. Do not misunderstand me, I love a good bromance. I love witty banter and friendship of all kinds. And I enjoyed this movie, and their relationship, a whole lot. But you can’t help but notice that the guys get to be cowboys and misbehave and save the day and be roguishly charming. And what does the main female character, played by Zoe Saldana, do? She is Spock’s love interest. I know I know, who wouldn’t wanna be Zachary Quinto’s  main squeeze? And she is wicked smart, so there is at least that. But mostly we watch her kiss him and worry about him. She isn’t involved in the main action, or a part of the film’s major theme;  finding one’s destiny. She follows him there. Her destiny is entirely linked to his.

Here is the trailer. Zoe is shown just twice on screen, and the second sighting is a kiss, duh. The guys are, well, being awesome characters.

As you might imagine, the film really is this exact trailer blown out into 2 hours, and I could go on for days about films and TV shows that follow this pattern. My conclusion is that a more diverse group of storytellers is needed. We need women to be creating content. We need you to tell your stories, speak your truth and raise your voice in whatever medium you are passionate about. That is how we are going to get more Hermoine’s on the screen to inspire and empower young girls. (If you wanna argue with me about how incredible that character is I’m happy to do that, but at a later date. Also, she’s fierce and integral to the story and smarter than any other character and sees plenty of danger and action and so if you don’t see how amazing that is then, well, I politely but forcefully dis concur.) We need to read more books by women, see more art created by women, hear more stories by and about women. If kids only read male authors, how much harder is it to imagine that women can write, and write well! If we never see female characters go on quests and discover their destinies, how are we to imagine that we can have adventures in our own lives?

Here is a fun clip about symbolic annihilation and who has power in the media. Board members, directors, heroines… all hard to come by. Rosario Dawson speaks my heart.

So women telling stories is likely to result in stories of women having adventures. Which sort of leads in to the second important point: they don’t want you to see yourself having adventures, or being capable. The content we are shown is controlled, in a very direct way, by the advertisers who want to sell you stuff. And they do this by making everyone feel constantly inadequate. This is true for all people, but women are targeted in particularly vile ways. All of the images we see are meant to be an ‘ideal’ that we should want and work towards, but that ideal is fake. That woman has features and a body determined by genetics, and she spends lots of time and money on physical upkeep. She has a team of stylists, hair and make up experts, and great lighting. And then after all that, she still isn’t good enough, and so that image is digitally altered. Significantly altered. No one looks like that. I repeat: NO ONE LOOKS LIKE THAT. But since we all learn early on that a woman’s worth is inextricably linked to how she looks, we strive. We buy the creams and the whiteners and the hair goop and the push up bra and the stilettos and the diet stuff. And it’s time consuming, financially consuming, and emotionally damaging. And while we are all running around chasing this ideal (which, for the record, is an arbitrary aesthetic determined and disseminated by a select few who are well aware that it is unattainable), the men are running the fucking world.

I’m not saying you are lame if you like to look good. Most people do. Personally, I feel super accomplished and grown up when I’m able to line my lips perfectly on the first try. And having fun with make up, or wanting to look professional for your job or sexy for your partner is not behavior that is all together harmful. But if you are always on a diet, spend hours getting ready, if you feel ugly without make-up or you’re constantly striving to go down a size, then I have a message: you are perfect the way you are. From the moment you get up. The bill of goods they are selling you is horse shit. You don’t need anything that you don’t already possess to be a whole, beautiful, and worthwhile human. And if people in your life make you feel otherwise you should run the hell away from those people and spend time with people who love you unconditionally and want to help you achieve your dreams and not just pick out the perfect outfit to go with those uncomfortable shoes.

So yea, I ranted a little bit there. But it boils down to this: don’t make your appearance the paramount struggle of your days. That is exactly what they (the vague, insidious they) want. Just think of all the time and energy you could save! Time and energy that could go towards discovering your passions and building loving relationships. Let achieving your dreams be the focus, and your lip liner the fun distraction. What a different world we’d be living in if women weren’t so busy trying to be beautiful/thin/successful/lovable/perfect all the time, and instead were focusing on their own love and adventures. And if your true calling is in any way about communication or story telling, then be fierce and true to yourself and don’t let your voice be drowned out. And if you have younger family members or work with kids, mentor those girls and show them that there is more to life than waiting for a prince while wearing the right dress. There are adventures to be had and new friends to be made and experiences to share. If we don’t see ourselves this way, we will continue to be disenfranchised and underrepresented.

Go watch it, comment with your thoughts/fav parts or whatever. And coming soon there is a new documentary from these same folks about how men are affected by the harmful and limiting portrayals of masculinity, and I am AMPED.

The Personal Is Political

Ok, well, I’ve been holed up in this alphabet apartment for the better part of this week, putting the finishing touches on my thesis. My advisor gave me some pretty intense edits, pushed me rul’ hard. I think I pushed back. In fact, I was sort of annoyed and over this whole process, and I think I let that anger motivate me. In any case, the point is I feel pretty great, pretty capable, pretty powerful.

Powerful. What an important word. I stumbled across a quote during my edits that really captured something I’ve been feeling a lot lately. The first part I was able to use in my paper, and I’m going to share that with you first. It’s an explanation of the phrase ‘The Personal is Political’, a phrase which basically encompasses why I sit at this computer and write this blog. The quote is by my scholarly idol, Bettina Aptheker, from her memoir Intimate Politics:

… when I was growing up, issues such as rape, sexual harassment (for which there was no language), sexual abuse of children, domestic violence, reproductive rights (referred to only as abortion), childbirth (assumed to be best left in the hands of the doctor), childcare (needed only by women who were derelict in their maternal duties), and sexuality (even between men and women) were spoken of in the hushed tones of shame and guilt. All were considered personal issues having absolutely nothing to do with politics. These issues became political as a result of the women’s movement… we came to understand that the personal is political- or, more precisely, that the personal reveals the political.

~ Aptheker

I believe really strongly that gender issues flow through our lives in really complex, sometimes unrecognizable ways. Especially in personal relationships, which is why I’m so often writing about that. And issues of power and intimacy are political, as Aptheker describes above, and we should try to recognize them in our day to day relations in order to better understand how we are working as part of a system. For women, in large and small ways, this can be scary, as this next quote touches on.

However, for women and children, especially girls, relations of power are often enacted in moments of intimacy, when we are the most vulnerable, in our families, with our parents or lovers, when we should experience the greatest sense of safety. Relations of power between women and men are likewise enacted in public places, when we are at work, or walking the streets, or riding public transportation. These instances also can take on an intimate quality because we experience them as a violation of personal space, or violence against our own person. What I am describing are widely shared experiences affecting the lives of millions of women virtually everywhere in the word…

~ Aptheker

This passage hit a nerve in me, because lately I have had a few encounters with men, strangers, that were unsettling. I find that guys, without a second thought, are apt to touch women without invitation. Especially in a nighttime setting, especially if its dimly lit and a crowd creates a buffer. I have also met people who assume that I will want, automatically, to hang out with them. I suppose this is based on ego, on their success in life in general. But success in life doesn’t mean you’ve put the work in to know me, and when I’m not immediately compliant I get accused of having trust issues. But men forget how unbalanced power can be in these situations. Physically, emotionally, culturally. It is all too easy to make a person feel small, especially when gender dynamics support it. Body language, invasion of personal space, pushy or aggressive language, these are all tools that can have a really detrimental effect if you’re not careful. I think even guys with good intentions can cross those lines without realizing it.

Ok well I suppose this post is really at the heart of why I write this thing. If you are out and about, and find yourself creeped out or feeling violated by a guy, this is not a unique experience and it’s not just your personal emotion. You are actually experiencing a shared phenomenon, and performing in a dynamic that other women have already performed. The degrees of violence and danger vary, as do the specific details. But if you can recognize this commonality, maybe you will feel better about pushing back, speaking up, leaving, or whatever appropriate response you come up with, instead of allowing yourself to feel small or defeated. I find that, when I remember how gender dynamics are working and how I’m not alone, it’s much easy to bite back.

(Side note: typing in ‘the personal is political’ to google images is pretty hilarious. Obama and Beyonce both make random appearances, as do Hermoine and Bristol Palin. Lots of buttons. Who knew?)

The Lovers, The Dreamers… and the Bad Boyfriends?

Alright, so life can be disappointing. Specifically, my love life. But before we delve into that, lets take a moment to enjoy this lovely video.

Wow, the Muppets. Classic. A few summers ago I staged The Muppet Movie as a summer camp musical. It was pretty hilarious. But this video is not just entertainment, it’s a learning tool.

I recently read a pretty hilarious book called I Don’t Care About Your Band. Author and comedy writer Julie Klausner was preachin’ to the choir with her tales of post-millennium guys and how hard it is to date. Especially in New York. The biggest ‘A-Ha!’ moment I had was in the chapter about Kermit the Frog. She has this brilliant metaphor, about how this generation of girls are Ms Piggys, funny and fabulous and over the top, and instead of becoming stars on our own shows we are chasing Kermit: the skinny, guitar playing, oblivious ‘cool guy’ who just wants to chill by the pond and hang with his bros. Sound brilliant? Yea, I about fell off the park bench reading that. In fact, here’s her exact words which are smarter and better than mine:

As I watched Kermit haplessly biking down the street without a care in the world, about to be smushed between two steamrollers, I thought, “Oh my God. I know that guys. I’ve dated him.” Kermit, beloved frog of yore, suddenly, overwhelmingly, reminded my adult self of vintage-eyeglass-frame-wearing guys from Greenpoint or Silver Lake, who pedal alone avenues in between band practice and drinks with friends, sans attachment, oblivious to the impeding hazards of reality and adulthood. Oh my god, I thought. Kermit is one of those hipsters who seem like they’re afraid of me. It all came together. Remember how content Kermit was, just strumming his banjo on a tree trunk in the swamp? That’s the guy I’ve been chasing my whole life, killing myself trying to show his how fabulous I am. Remember how, on The Muppet Show, Kermit used to politely laugh at Miss Piggy’s earnest pleas for some kissy-kissy, or fend off her jealousy after flirting right in front of her with one of his pretty guest stars? Piggy had to canvas relentlessly to get herself a good part on that show, while Kermit was always the star… Kermit never appreciated what he had in Piggy, because she was just one great thing about his awesome life. ~JK

Alright, well, I hope this is making as much sense to you as it does to me. I think, more than anything, you just want someone to look at you and say ‘You are a lot, and I specifically like how much you are.’ In general, I look around and see a lot of my girl friends dumbing themselves down or dimming their shiny-ness, hoping to catch boys that are used to being in the spotlight. But who wants to be a diamond in the rough when you can be precious jewels, 24/7? Why should we want these shy guys with their bromances and instruments? (Cause they are gorgeous usually, and yea, I totally get that.) Julie goes on to say that “…if you want to be the star of a show, you should make your own effing show… Or maybe you’ll find out one day that instead of a popular charmer with a talent for playing the banjo, what you really want is a guy who digs you like crazy.” (JK)

I mean, it’s like this girl has been watching video of all my recent past romantic encounters. And what I’ve learned (and am trying really hard to believe/implement) is that boys aren’t meant to be chased. And neither are girls. You shouldn’t have to convince anyone that you’re a good idea. You’re a great idea, and that should be obvious. If you’re green-skinned crush is charming and strumming but too busy writing songs and hanging with the boys to notice how hilarious and gorgeous and unique you are, then just let it go. This whole pig chasing frog fiasco is really funny when it’s puppets, but on the big bad streets of Manhattan… it’s exhausting and ineffective. And downright outrageous. Kermit needs to put the banjo down and make moves. And Piggy should probably direct/produce her own variety show and find someone who can make her laugh and handle her karate chop.

(All credit to this brilliant hilarious woman, many thanks for the lessons and laughs and inspiration for this post. You can find out more about Julie here.)