July 24, 2011

Comic-Con Recap: Oh, You Sexy Geek!


I went to Comic-Con this year; on Thursday, I attended a panel titled “Oh, You Sexy Geek!” a discussion of the implications of “sexy women” in geek/nerd culture, and how that may or may not be used to pander to men.  The panel consisted of moderator Katrina Hill and panelists Clare Kramer, Adrianne Curry, Bonnie Burton, Jennifer Stuller, Chris Gore (who almost no-showed), Clare Grant, Kiala Kazabee, and Jill Pantozzi.

I was excited for the panel, considering I am frequently frustrated by the media’s exploitative use of women (whether it be the host of a show, such as Olivia Munn, or booth babes at E3) to appeal to a market that they treat as exclusively male.  However, my expectations were quickly dashed when discussion of media literacy was tossed aside in favor of accusations of jealousy.  Bonnie Burton and Adrianne Curry mused that women who were critical of sexy geek culture in any way were just jealous, had no confidence, and were projecting their issues with self-esteem onto the women who felt empowered by walking the Comic-Con floor in a Slave Leia costume.

When Jennifer Stuller (one of the creators of the upcoming Geek Girl Con) suggested that women who criticized “sexiness” were more than likely deconstructing the media, and by extension a society that tells women their worth lies in their ability to appeal aesthetically to men, she was rebuffed by the other members of the panel.  Later, Stuller attempted to turn the discussion towards media literacy, to which Clare Grant responded that she doesn’t read magazines, therefore the media has no influence on her whatsoever.  Adrianne Curry added that women criticize one another “because we’re all a bunch of bitches.”

Attitudes such as “Slave Leia kicked Jabba the Hutt’s ass while wearing that bikini – that is EMPOWERING!” and “I can’t help it that some of the characters I like to cosplay as are scantily clad” were met with rounds of applause from almost everyone in the audience.  When the moderator mentioned that one of her friends posted a picture of her seven year old daughter wearing Slave Leia costume on Facebook, Adrianne Curry responded that there was nothing wrong with the human body, and that the U.S. is way too purtinical and prudish.

There were many disappointing moments that had me almost leaving the panel entirely, but nothing was quite so horrifying as the one contribution Chris Gore made when he finally showed up five minutes before the panel ended.  He took the stage, apologized for being late, and said “Hey, I’m here to represent all the guys in this room who want to stick their penis in every woman up here on this panel.”  There was nervous laughter and a bit of applause.  I don’t even need to explain how disgusting and problematic that is.

The only good moment during the entire hour, was when the moderator called out Seth Green, who was looking disappointed with the discussion, sitting in the front row of the audience.  Katrina Hill asked if he wanted to contribute or share his thoughts, and he unexpectedly took the mic for about fifteen minutes.   As Hill explained to the audience what the audience would know him from (Robot Chicken), Jennifer Stuller mentioned that she had seen him promoting media literacy for the Girl Scouts.  Seth responded that he felt media literacy is incredibly important in the ever-increasing, constantly-unavoidable, media saturated world we live in.  He described how celebrities hold tons of influence over decisions people make, whether it’s over what product to buy or what sources can and should be trusted, and that certainly shouldn’t be the case.  Green said that the media promotes a lot of “poison” and that girls, kids, and even adults need to know how to keep that poison from infiltrating the way you think, make decisions, and live.

When I returned from Comic-Con, one of the first things I did was go in search of that video.  It is amazing and here it is:

June 8, 2011

“Slut” Can Mean A Lot of Things, But “No” Is Always “No” (trigger alert)

I feel his body against mine, and then I feel his erect penis on the small of my back. I squirm, pressing myself against the wall, but he puts a hand over my mouth, hissing into my ear to be quiet so no one hears. He pulls my underwear down and struggles to align his penis with my vagina as I try to push him away and utter muffled cries. He penetrates me.

He flips me onto my stomach, repositioning himself on top of me. He pushes my face down, his weight crushing the breath from me. I struggle to say, “No,” and he growls, “Quiet bitch,” as he yanks my arms back.

“Aw fuck – red! Red!

“Oh god, I’m so sorry! Are you all right?”

I sit up, immediately released from his hold, and roll my shoulders. “Yeah, you just grabbed me sort of weird and it hurt…and not in a good way.”

He apologizes again and I assure him it’s all right.

I shower, dress, and kiss him on the cheek as I depart for SlutWalk LA.

June 6, 2011

What Being at Slutwalk Taught Me About My Activism: SlutWalk LA

Filed under: Event,Sexuality — Tags: , , , — Sarit @ 9:57 pm

I attended Slutwalk in my jeans and Converse, a flower in my hair and a camera posed before my eye. Frankly, I didn’t feel like I needed to be adorned in something revealing in order to take back my dignity. In fact, I don’t even think the word “slut” has the qualities of empowerment, and when folks started chanting “I’m a slut, so what,” I didn’t participate. Still, as a survivor of sexual abuse, I jumped on board with the Slutwalk movement viewing it as an opportunity to shed some light on the darkness and bring awareness to those witnessing the march itself.  For the most part, I still feel that way, but actually being there, immersed in the energy of the march, I did find myself struggling with an internal rift.

I started to pay attention not only to the list of remarkable speakers (Zoe Nicholson, Shira Tirrant, Morgane Richardson, Hugo Shywzer, councilwoman Lindsay Horvath, and several others), but to the varied media presence. I’m skeptical by nature, so when I noticed the CBS camera paying the most attention to the scantily clad Forest Nui Cobalt or the adult film star Alana Evans, I felt the familiar frustration I always have with the media’s propensity toward exploitation: Would the media actually “get” why we were really there in the first place? (Note, fortunately, the CBS footage ended up being pretty well-edited and the seriousness of the event was captured. In this case, the media did the right thing.)

It was empowering to listen to the likes of Zoe Nicholson encourage a passionate call-and-response: “Just because I breathe…” “…you may not touch me.”  Her fervency alone made me proud to be there. It felt good to hear so many survivors stand courageously before a crowd of cheering allies to share their incredible stories. In many ways, this was the reason I was there, as I’d kept my own mouth shut for too long. For a moment, I even felt remorse in not volunteering to share my own story! Nevertheless, there were some things I wish I had heard: Perhaps a more varied perspective on rape and sexual assault: spousal abuse; men who’d been victimized by sexual violence. Maybe next year.

I knew from the beginning that there might be a conflict of interest. I knew there would be a presence of sex-worker advocacy, and therefore sex-workers, and while I have no issues with sex itself (seriously, it’s fantastic, I just don’t want it to be my primary identifier), I do have issues with pornography. For me, there’s too much of a divergence in ideologies between stopping violence and a business that feeds on violence and rape culture. Do I think someone who works in the adult industry deserves to be victimized by rape or sexual assault? No, of course not—I don’t believe that anyone deserves that, regardless of their job, their attire, their level of intoxication, their sexuality, or their flirtatious nature. Their body is theirs, no question about it, but I do have to ask why one would continue to work in that same industry after being raped.  Alana Evans, one of the speakers who courageously shared her story still works in the adult industry. In fact, she says, “It’s just a job.” But is it, if it’s a job that continues to subjugate and objectify women? Is it, if its job is to feed the male fantasy of women always being “ready and willing” to suck, fuck, and be submissive?  Sadly, it only took me about 3 seconds to find an image of her on her own site where she’s victimized by violence. While sex workers certainly deserve the same legal protection against rape as I do, I’m still not inspired or intrigued by their career choice.  If anything, I feel it’s contributing to the problem we’re trying to eradicate. Regardless, there is something to be said for a movement that brings vast awareness to the issue of rape. As Shira Tarrant said in her recent interview for Ms. with Melanie Klein:

“SlutWalk is imperfect. All political movements are imperfect. Human beings are imperfect. But while we’re fighting amongst ourselves, sexual assaults keep happening.”

I can’t agree with her more.

As a photographer, I’m often asked why I won’t photograph certain things. Fellow photographers have told me, “Sometimes, you just have to do what the client asks” or “You can’t always pick and choose your clients.” But the truth is, I won’t sacrifice something I believe in for a paycheck. Heck, if I were offered a huge payout to photograph the likes of Dov Charney, I would decline. I feel this way about porn as well.  My role as a photographer is collaborative, and subjugation is never an option. Sometimes, being an activist and believing in something means sacrificing the convenience and the luxury of having something at the cost of retaining something inherently more valuable: dignity, morals and self-respect.

Bottom line: I’m glad I was at Slutwalk, despite the fact that I will never claim “slut” as a title.

Photograph by Sarit Photography. For complete SlutWalk LA photo album, click here.

February 27, 2011

Live-Blogging the Oscars

Filed under: Event,Film,Gender,Media — Tags: , — Rachel @ 4:34 pm

This liveblog is in reverse-chronological order.  Refresh the page for the latest updates.

8:36 Well it was an underwhelming and mildly offensive show.  Recap with more in-depth thoughts to be posted tomorrow.  Thanks for reading!

8:14 Is there a reason why most of the best actress clips are of the women in pain?  Just wondering.

8:02 Academy brought out a woman to introduce a woman, to introduce a woman, but, whoops, forgot to nominate a woman.

7:50 I find the idea of women’s “goddess”-ness being tied to smooth legs, really, really problematic.

7:41 Well, I’m offended by the lack of diversity throughout the show.

7:28 I seriously do not understand this obsession with the early Oscars, all it does is show how far Hollywood hasn’t come, with about as much diversity in 2011 as there was in the 1950s.

7:24 Sorry for the slow updates, haven’t seen anything offensive or great in a while.

6:48 Well that’s twice that a woman was part of a winning team and didn’t get in a word.  Not sure if it was decided beforehand who would speak, but just an observation.

6:28 Academy is better at recognizing women filmmakers when looking at foreign movies, apparently.

6:26 Disappointed to see cross-dressing being played for laughs.

6:12 Why is this show glamorizing “old” Hollywood so much, conveniently ignoring that it was full of racism, sexism, etc.?

5:57 Aaaand, now he’s hitting on the winner too.

5:55 Hailee Steinfeld is in the wrong category – should be “Best Actress”, she is the star of True Grit.

5:53  The whole Kirk Douglas-Anne Hathaway thing had a cringeworthy “creepy old man” vibe to it.

5:45 Sad to see the woman (set director) not able to get in a word during the first win.


February 21, 2011

WAM! It Yourself, Los Angeles: 2011 Conference

Originally posted at Women, Action & the Media.

Friday, March 25 and Saturday, March 26

Santa Monica College, 1900 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

Humanities and Social Sciences 263 (see campus map)

Part of WAM! It Yourself 2011, a multi-city event by Women, Action & the Media. For more information about events happening in LA and all over the world, check back here or email Rachel.

RSVP HERE: Facebook Event Page. Seating is based on first come basis.

Friday, March 25th

2:00-3:00 p.m.

Video presentation and discussion on the representation of Women of Color in academia with Morgane Richardson, founder of Refuse the Silence

3:15-4:15 p.m.

Lecture on strong female characters in science fiction and fantasy television shows with Anita Sarkeesian.

4:30-5:30 p.m.

Presentation on the possibility of social change through social media with Pia Guerrero, co-founder of Adios Barbie.


Video clips from the Kick It Up! project and discussion on women in new media with Amie Williams and Kamala Lopez of Global Girl Media.

7:00-8:00 p.m.

Workshop on ImMEDIAte Justice, a summer program that empowers young women from Los Angeles to share their experience of reproductive justice through film, featuring Jacqueline Sun and Carla Ohrendorff.

8:15-9:15 p.m.

Discussion with Daena Title on her recent “DROWN the DOLLS” series and the work of feminist art.

Saturday, March 26th

11:00-12:00 p.m.

Poetry slam and video presentation with Cleo Anderson.

12:15-1:15 p.m.

Presentation on “Beauty Activism: How media messes with our body image and what we can do about it,” with Claire Mysko.

1:30-2:30 p.m.

Discussion on social media and media literacy as tools of activism in the classroom with Melanie Klein and Rachel O’Connor.

2:45-3:45 p.m.

Presentation of LoveSTRUCK, a discussion about the Twilight phenomenon and its glamorization of unhealthy relationship behaviors, with Elin Waldal.

4:00-5:00 p.m.

Presentation on “Revolution of Real Women: Infiltrating Media, Normalizing Authentic Beauty and How to Spark Your Own Revolution!” with Briane Widaman.

5:15-6:15 p.m.

Discussion of the role and state of feminist online media and reflections on the first year of the Ms. Magazine blog with Michele Kort and Jessica Stites.

RSVP HERE: Facebook Event Page. Seating is based on first come basis.

Saturday Night Mixer

7:30-10:30 p.m., at private residence in Culver City, CA

Sarit Rogers, a local feminist photographer, will be hosting a social networking event in her home in Culver City, CA. More information forthcoming!

*Registration for Saturday night mixer required.  Contact: melmelklein@cs.com

Related articles:

February 7, 2011

#FemLA Panel Speaks Out (VIDEO)

Young Feminists Speak Out; Los Angeles at Livity Outernational in Santa Monica, CA., January 20, 2011.

Related articles:

February 2, 2011

Guest Speaking Appearance: NEDAwareness 2/23 @ 12:30PM

I’ll be guest speaking as part of JADE’s (Joint Advocates for Disordered Eating) annual participation in NEDAwareness, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week at California State University, Northridge.

Come on out! I’ll be giving one of my favorite talks (description below) ever.

DATE + TIME: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 @ 12:30PM- 1:45PM

LOCATION: California State University, Northridge in the Thousand Oaks Room, USU Bldg (University Student Union)

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION: Mirror, Mirror: Body Image and Pop Culture With sharp wit, humor and keen insight, Melanie Klein explores the ways in which pop culture has affected and distorted our body image, our perception of others as well as our expectations and dreams. Combining research statistics, cultural observations and personal experiences, Melanie encourages us to recognize the beauty that we all possess

PARKING: Park in Student Lot, G4 or the parking structure, G3 Parking permits may be obatined at the information booth off Parthenia and Lindley.

Please arrive on time. Seating is limited. All events during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week on campus are *free* and *open to students and the community*.

January 25, 2011

“A mea culpa” from Hugo Schwyzer

Filed under: Event — Tags: , , — Melanie @ 10:23 pm

Originally posted at Hugo Schwyzer by Hugo Schwyzer. Cross-posted with permission.

I wrote last week about Young Feminists Speak Out, an event I attended in Santa Monica. Though it was an important and interesting discussion, I noted that I was taken aback by what I interpreted as an ageist slight at “older feminists.” I mentioned posing for a Facebook photo with my colleague and friend Shira Tarrant, each of us with our middle fingers raised; the picture was captioned “middle-aged feminists flipping off ageism.” I posted it on Facebook within seconds, while the speakers were still speaking and the event was ongoing. Furthermore, while I tweeted my annoyance, I didn’t bring it up in the Q&A that followed, and I left the event early to have dinner with friends.

I’m fortunate to have thousands of Facebook friends, including a great many people in the feminist community and many, many former students. The photo ended up in everyone’s newsfeed on Facebook, and attracted many comments and much discussion. And the impression it left was that Shira and I, as “professional” feminists and professors in our forties, weren’t spending a lot of effort on connecting with the young people who were speaking. We had constricted around a couple of unfortunate remarks, and my choice to post the photo reinforced the notion that ageism had been the great theme of the event. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Writing at Feminist Fatale today, Miranda Petersen takes issue, rightly so, with how I interpreted the evening. Miranda writes:

The truth is age discrimination goes both ways. It’s funny; we addressed the topic of the “generational divide” to help break down some of those assumptions. Instead, we experienced first hand the lack of respect many young feminists are confronted with: either we are cast as ignorant or naive (e.g., “they’ve got so much to learn…”), or our integrity and motives are questioned (e.g., our justification for using “young feminists” in the title). There is certainly much learning to do on our part, and the distinction between age vs. ideological divides is worth some serious discussion. But how are we supposed to do better if we aren’t taken seriously to begin with?

Emphasis in the original.

Miranda’s right. I take full responsibility for posting a photo that was inappropriate and got a tremendous amount of attention. For the record, the picture was taken with my camera and was my idea; it was an impulsive and frankly juvenile decision to post it. I chose to do at the workshop what I try never to do with my students, and indeed warn against — taking one inflammatory remark out of context and focusing on it to the exclusion of everything else. For someone who considers himself a role model as well as an advocate for egalitarianism and social justice, for someone who works with these young people day in and day out, that was disappointing and inappropriate and I am genuinely, publicly sorry. I was wrong.

Ageism is a real issue. It does go both ways. And the annoyance at being falsely characterized as technologically incompetent hardly justifies tuning out the excellent points made by the many wonderful young speakers at last Thursday’s event.

I look forward to participating with enthusiasm and sincerity (and my twittering thumbs) at another such event soon. I will be participating with my colleagues and friends, for that they are, regardless of age.

Related articles:

Youth, Waves, and Twitter: An “Age-Old” Debate About Age, and the Beginning of a Los Angeles Feminist Network

Guest post by co-organizer and co-moderator of Young Feminists Speak Out: LA, Miranda Petersen.

From left to right: 1. Myra Duran, Tani Ikeda, Jollene Levid, Brie Widaman, Miranda Petersen 2. Tani Ikeda, Jollene Levid, Brie Widaman

Last Thursday I served as Co-Moderator, along with Melanie Klein of Feminist Fatale, for the “Young Feminists Speak Out: Los Angeles” panel/mixer, which I helped organize along with Morgane Richardson, founder of Refuse The Silence, and Myra Duran.

The event was inspired in part by a recent piece in More Magazine that featured Morgane, along with other familiar feminist leaders such as Shelby Knox and Lena Chen. Our goal was to continue the conversation on what young feminism looks like today, while also calling attention to the often-overlooked work of feminists on the west coast, and providing a platform for young feminist activists to speak out in a forum where they would be shown respect and be taken seriously.

When considering potential speakers we aimed to capture the diverse, intersectional nature of LA-based feminist culture. The panelists included Myra Duran, Grassroots Community Organizer, Tani Ikeda, Founder and Co-director of ImMEDIAte Justice, Jollene Levid, National Chairperson for AF3IRM, and Brianne Widaman, Founder and President of Revolution of Real Women. Together, the panelists were able to speak to a broad range of issues—many of which are often left out of the mainstream feminist dialogue—including access to education/the DREAM Act, citizenship status and reproductive justice, anti-imperialism and anti-militarism, the fight against trafficking of women and girls, queer sexuality and sex education, body image and the media.

Our effort to include such a wide range of issues and individual styles led to an intense and empowering discussion on the need to address the underlying capitalist, patriarchal structure of our society, and the importance of re-framing the discussion in a way that is inclusive to everyone, especially those outside academia and the feminist blogoshpere. At the same time, having such a diverse group of panelists proved how challenging it can be to try and neatly encompass so many different approaches and ideologies within a traditional framework, such as a panel discussion. It is possible that trying to include so many different and unique experiences may have led to a less-cohesive dialogue than we anticipated, and it brings up the need to re-think our organizing methods and recognize our own assumptions of the “best” way to initiate a dialogue.


We Exist! LA Feminists Speak Out

From left to right: Myra Duran, Tani Ikeda, Morgane Richardson, Miranda Petersen, Melanie Klein, Brie Widaman and Jollene Levid

Thursday night, feminists drove from all over L.A. to be at the Young Feminists Speak Out event in Santa Monica.  While the panel (click here for a list of all featured panelists and their bios) focused on the new generation of feminists, people of all ages were in attendance to talk and listen.  The event was put together by Morgane Richardson, a feminist originally hailing from the east coast, Myra Duran and Miranda Petersen.  Upon moving to Los Angeles and noticing a lack of feminist gatherings in Los Angeles, Morgane was inspired to organize a diverse panel of LA-area feminists  and connected with Myra and Miranda to make the vision a reality. They are already working on more feminist events for the Los Angeles area.  Melanie Klein and Miranda Petersen moderated, and asked questions which ranged from how each panelist “found” feminism, to whether there’s a need for a current mainstream icon for the feminist movement.

One of the questions asked was whether there is an “east-coast/west-coast divide” in terms of organization, issues, and focus in the movement.  I was surprised to hear panelists disagree that a divide exists.  Ever since changing my major to Women’s Studies, I’ve wanted to do work for a feminist-focused company, and while there are some in Los Angeles, or regional offices for larger organizations, a great majority exist in Washington D.C. and New York City.


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