I must admit that I get excited when I hear anyone embrace the term ‘feminist’, especially in the world of modern media; that is, of course, until that person refers herself as a ‘mama grizzly‘. So naturally, when I came across an MTV interview in which Beyonce used the term to define herself, I was rightfully stoked.
I think I am a feminist in a way. It’s not something I consciously decided I was going to be; perhaps it’s because I grew up in a singing group with other women, and that was so helpful to me. It kept me out of so much trouble and out of bad relationships. My friendships with my girls are just so much a part of me that there are things I am never going to do that would upset that bond. I never want to betray that friendship because I love being a woman and I love being a friend to other women.
I have been a fan of Beyonce’s for years, ever since Destiny’s Child’s second CD The Writings on The Wall came out in 1999. They gave a fresh, young perspective on their experiences in the world as women and I sincerely respected their musical talent and honesty. Those are qualities that I respect about Beyonce to this day.
There has been much debate within the feminist blog-o-sphere about whether Beyonce’s lyrics (specifically those of Single Ladies) should be considered empowering. Empowerment is the foundation for all feminist approaches and one might argue that for a woman to say to a man, “this is my bottom line, take it or leave it”, regardless of what that bottom line is, is the very definition of empowerment. Clearly Beyonce is not a Women’s Studies major with years of feminist theory under her belt; however, she’s never claimed to be. Despite the fact that she is not the first pop star to openly categorize herself as a feminist (TLC’s Chili, Lady Gaga, Ellen Page and Ryan Gosling are also on the f-train), Beyonce’s positive acceptance of a term deemed so negative by the media is most definitely praiseworthy. Considering the fact that feminism has been (and still is) regarded as a movement that is no longer relevant, it is extremely important for celebrities to encourage a supportive conversation regarding feminism- as they can reach a demographic that otherwise wouldn’t think twice about it. Not everyone has the privilege of growing up with positive female relationships like Beyonce and I personally wasn’t able to foster my own until I took a Women’s Studies course; but the beauty is that while our phenomonologies are vastly different, we can still come together as empowered women willing and able to advocate for ourselves.
Once while waiting for the 704 a young man struck up a conversation with me. We ended up sitting next to each other on the bus and he ended up asking after my destination. I told him I was headed to class.
“What are you taking?”
“An intro to women’s studies,” I said.
He rankled. “So is there like, a lot of feminism going on?”
Unfortunately, I expected such a response, but fortunately, practice had perfected my defense. I answered enthusiastically, “Yeah and it’s really awesome! I’ve learned so much. Feminism seeks to address the patriarchy and to be honest, I think the patriarchy harms men like you most of all.”
As I parted feminism from stigma for him, he began to nod in agreement. And whether he intended to merely impress me or had experienced a change of heart, he finally said, “I never knew that about feminism.”
I felt victorious for just the moment he was confronted with it.
After being repeatedly bullied by boys at her school, Cleo’s mother went to LAUSD‘s Gender Equity Commission for help. The GEC’s director, a tiny woman “who took no shit,” stepped in. She was the type of woman who didn’t ask, she told people how it was going to go and became Cleo’s first feminist mentor. She gave Cleo her first public speaking gig at a panel for what she later learned was a published study on girls, what we know as How Schools Short Change Girls.
While that was her last formal brush with feminism, this impressive early introduction is rare and, without a doubt, played a pivotal role in Cleo’s development as a girl and her later identification as a feminist. Early introductions to feminism, not just diluted versions such as donning t-shirts emblazoned with the marketing slogan “Girls Rock,” are not usual among young people. That’s why self-identified feminist Ruby, the 7 year-old featured on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party, and Cleo are such extraordinary stories. In my line of work as a Women’s Studies professor at a community college, I find that most young women and men come to feminism after there is much to repair.
Cleo answers the question, “what if young girls were given women’s history and a feminist sensibility early in life?”
When did you first call yourself a feminist, and what helped influence that decision?
I have always been a feminist. The question is asked often these days, and I find it so peculiar. Would you ask a person of color if they believed in equality? Would you ask a trans person if they believe in LGBTQAI Civil Rights? I would rather ask why one would not want to be a feminist. I can think of only one legitimate reason, and it is because they are really stretching the boundaries of US thinking to drop all labels and make that their mission. (gender fluid!)
Did I ever think women or men were innately unequal? Never. Nor people of different races, ages or classes. Certainly my deeply devotional childhood influenced me. I look at the books I read, the saints I admired, and they were all people who worked with making life better; Mother Seton, Vincent DePaul, Catherine Laboure, even St. Nicholas and St. Valentine worked with the oppressed, the poor. It just seemed like the obvious choice. When I got older and found out that the word and meaning of Christian had been entirely co-opted, I converted to Buddhism. Funny thing is, it makes more sense to me to think of John XXIII, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem as all practitioners of Buddhism. They are all invested in Self-Discovery. (I digress)
Originally posted at The Daily Femme on July 26, 2010.
Interviewed by Cherie
The minute I saw Melanie Klein’s photographs of students standing against a massive collage of models found in magazines, I wanted to know more about her work. As a Women Studies and Sociology lecturer in a Southern California College, Melanie Klein has been studying how the objectification of women in the media has a negative psychological, social, physical, and mental impact on the average woman. Covering the likes of Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears in her courses but also on her blog, Feminist Fatale, Melanie deconstructs media representations of women from a feminist perspective. In this interview she focuses on the dominant beauty paradigm in our celebrity-driven culture and explains what she means by the term “empower-tainment.” She also tells us how reducing her own media consumption changed the way she looked at other women and gave her self-esteem a much-needed boost.
I teach Women Studies and Sociology at Santa Monica College and this project came from a course I taught called “Women in Pop Culture” where we addressed representations of women in the media and discussed how a certain image of beauty affects women across class, weight, size etc. We also discussed what George Gerbner of the Annenberg School of Communications called “cultivation” to explain how a media saturated environment impacts our perceptions, morals and values. Cultivation refers to the endless stream of repetitive images manufactured by the media. Millions of images that we view over our lifetime carry the exact same body idea and so we decided to cut out hundreds of them, paste them up on a wall and then take photos of the women against the collage to underscore the juxtaposition. The students were really moved by it and standing against this collage elicited a visceral and emotional response that illustrated how daunting and depressing these images can be.
If you’ve been following Feminist Fatale as of late, you know that we’re on a continuous quest to replace the vapid, superficial and one-dimensional images of femininity with real girls and women that inspire, provoke, agitate and move us. Guest blogger, Rachel O, chose the fabulous Janeane Garofolo. I must admit, I was stoked that Rachel, who is young enough be my daughter (yeah, I can’t believe it either), chose a woman iconic to many third wavers and Gen Xers such as myself.
Unsurprisingly, I became familiar with her in 1994’sReality Bites. I was not only smitten but I felt connected and inspired by her character (and subsequently Janeane herself). I identified with her snarky, cynical and critical ways, the ways in which she called out pop culture on its various dysfunctions. She was (and is) liberal and unapologetic. I dug it (and I still do). It just so happened that 1994 was the same year I took my first class about women, Sociology of Women.
But I don’t hear a lot of women under the age of 35 referencing Janeane. I don’t even know if they know who she is and how insanely cool she is. Rachel knows and she’s here to tell you what she thinks.
Rachel O on Janeane Garafolo:
After watching Hilary Swank portray the famous and groundbreaking feminist, Alice Paul, in Iron Jawed Angels I intended to writing my Featured Feminist post on this brave and revolutionary woman. It made sense. My major was set; I would pursue Women’s Studies for my BA and Alice Paul is one of the “big” names in feminist history, a woman that helped change the lives of all girls and women to follow. However, when I started to write I realized I didn’t have much to say about Alice Paul. Inspiring? Most definitely. An awesome feminist who I aspire to be? No doubt. But I found myself unable to identify – her fearlessness, and the impact she had is something I can’t entirely relate to.
So I began thinking, trying to come up with a name that I could write an entire post about. Wikipedia’s list of current supposed feminists turns up a pretty big amount of names, but when googling a name on the list + the word “feminist” I’m pretty hard pressed to find an interview, a quote wherein the actress, director, producer, TV star, etc. is willing to declare themselves as such. And people who I simply assumed would readily admit they’re a member of the group, provedmewrong.
So. A couple weeks ago I watched Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion for the first time in a few years. As I watched foul-mouthed, so-black-it’s-almost-blue haired Heather Mooney step up to the Jaguar dealership counter, I realized – Janeane Garofalo. Janeane Garofalo is a self-proclaimed liberal, feminist, atheist. When I watch her (even in some terrible movies), read her interviews and hear her speak, I want to run out, dye my hair black and buy some cat-eye frames.
I was surprised to learn Janeane wasn’t always a liberal or a feminist. She was raised conservative, right wing, Republican, Catholic. It wasn’t until she was in college that her worldview broadened, she began to read, study current issues on her own, and did a 180 on her social and political views. She began doing stand-up in the 1980s, which eventually led her to Hollywood. Her film career reached its peak in the 90’s – where she starred in Reality Bites, The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, and 200 Cigarettes. The roles she’s taken on and been offered in the past ten years have declined both in quantity and quality. She admitted to being a sell-out in a recent interview, just to achieve the limited work she receives.
Janeane has never been one to back down or shy away from making her true feelings on social and political issues known, and admitted her outspoken behavior has cost her work. She makes declarations that I rarely hear in Hollywood. While doing stand-up, she proclaimed to an audience:
“Like many women in this room, I truly believe myself to be the fattest person to ever walk the face of the earth. Alright? And…as that holds true I do not deserve real love. But…I’m not completely responsible for that, that’s not all my fault…the media has mindfucked me as they have mindfucked you, and when I spell fuck it’s spelled with a PH, so don’t anybody get all up in arms. You know, when you picked up the newspaper, is it news to you about Delta Burke’s yo-yo dieting or Roseanne Barr’s weight gain? Is that news? Do you give a shit? Alright, and I would keep my mouth shut, if I just read one story about Charles Durning, Ned Beatty, Brian Dennehy, Jack Nicholson, Rutger Hauer: have you seen him lately? John Goodman, who had to lose weight to play the Babe, by the way, P.S. Nobody seems to think that’s a big deal, alright? But if you’re a woman, oh God Forbid, okay?”
Her most recent wave of press came when she accepted a co-starring role on 24. It was slightly controversial, she told her interviewers, because the show had been originally created by someone from the right wing, and the show itself exemplified many of the political issues she worked to fight against, such as torture. She currently resides in New York, spending most of her time doing stand up. She still gives interviews, and speaks about politics to a variety of platforms, everything from Real Time With Bill Maher to Fox News.
I’ve listened to Janeane complain about everything – from politics, to society’s view of women comics, to modeling and the impact it’s had on eating disorders in women. She doesn’t fear labels, and even told an audience, while ranting about high fashion, “I will not back down on this, I don’t care how unlikeable it makes me seem to you, I hate it.” She does it all – being a smart, informed feminist, who encourages others to educate themselves, while being a hilarious comedian, and fantastic actress. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some new frames to find, and a box of hair dye to buy.
As young girls and women,we’re bombarded with images of women that have little else but beauty and boys on the brain (the former required to win the latter). I’ve said it time and time again, I firmly believe that we need a new set of female role models that are manifesting social and political change in the world, girls and women that are intelligent, inspiring and bad-ass as hell.
Tobie Loomis fits the bill. Tobie boasts an impressive resume. She’s an independent writer, director and producer, an activist and an advocate for equal rights for all. She is an active member of Women in Film (WIF), advisory chair of the WIF International Committee and co-chair of the award winning PSA Production Program, a program that mentors young filmmakers in developing their craft as writers, directors and producers.
Both programs do incredible work in supporting and empowering young woman to develop their creative voices, something that is absolutely essential in a media landscape dominated by corporate conglomerates that limit information diversity and a culture that still relegates women to the margins of cultural discourse. To encourage young women to develop their voice, to celebrate their voice, and create a forum for expression is an incredible gift to all girls and women that are seriously starving for new images of girls and women that relay stories that are timely, relevant and authentic. Haven’t we had enough of the one-dimensional images promoted by reality television and most of the pop culture landscape? I know I have.
In addition to the work Tobie does in the area of film and creative expression, she is Co-Executive Director of the ERA Today campaign with Kamala Lopez, director of A Single Woman that was recently screened at W.A.M Los Angeles. Their campaign was recently presented to the Veteran Feminists of America in Dallas last month.
Tobie is an excellent example of the types of women we need to know exist and are working on creating creative content that inspires and ignites while simultaneously advocating and working for social and political change.
As Thursday’s presenter Carla Ohrendorff said, “the bad-assery” was tangible. WAM! Los Angeles brought together media makers, activists, and feminists for 2 days of films, video remix, critical analysis, and collaboration.
Blogging/videoblogging, tweeting, and lecturing are powerful tools that allow the feminist movement’s momentum to continue, connecting and expanding the community of activists. But, nothing beats the opportunity to get a bunch of fabulous people together providing the time and space to teach, learn and inspire, leaving us all feeling connected to something larger than ourselves and our immediate peer group. And that’s what WAM! allowed us to do.
After 2 days of events that included the opportunity to socialize, laugh and share ideas for future projects over the communal potluck at Friday night’s movie mixer, I felt high. The collective spirit was palpable and energizing. And while we were “waming” it in Los Angeles, feminist media activists were waming it in Boston, Chicago, New York, D.C., and San Antonio. Knowing that women and men were taking part in similar events, tapping into and invoking the “bad-assery” in their respective communities, not only connected me to the larger national collective but to the spirit of consciousness-raising groups of the second wave of feminism that were integral in creating social and political change.
Like most, I am prone to moments of doubt and self-sabotage (do I have anything to say? does this make a difference?), but the solidarity evident last week in Los Angeles and knowing there other cites across the United States were drumming up the same collective momentum in the same way second-wavers did in CR groups is more than enough to shake off the self-doubt and move forward.
…and it ain’t over. The iconic Gloria Steinemreminds us why the rights we enjoy should not be taken-for-granted and the miles we have yet to tread.
(Reuters) – A message to all those confident young American women from pioneering feminist Gloria Steinem: For all the advances in women’s rights in the past 40 years, equality remains a distant hope.
As she turns 76 next week, the woman who walked the front lines of American feminism in the 1960s and 1970s — often in a miniskirt, big glasses and buttons with colorful expletives — celebrates her good health and “huge, huge leaps forward.”
But Steinem has plenty of bones to pick with government and society when it comes to women’s rights.
American women workers still earn only 70 cents to men’s $1, women are barred from combat, women’s health care premiums are higher and raising children is not counted as productive work, she says.
While abortion is legal in the United States, Steinem says the reproductive freedom she fought for is under attack, as seen in efforts to include limits on abortion in the health care reform debate now in Congress.
“I thought if we got majority support around issues, that we would succeed, and that is not necessarily the case,” Steinem told Reuters on Tuesday before being honored by the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project in Beverly Hills.
For those awaiting a woman president of the United States, Steinem throws more cold water on their hopes, claiming she will likely not see that in her lifetime.
Steinem supported Hillary Clinton in her drive to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008 and credits her with “changing the molecules in the air a little bit” by making millions more men and women imagine a woman president.
Yet, she still maintains that the United States is not ready to elect a woman president because “female authority is still associated with a domestic setting and seems inappropriate in a public setting.”
“It will take longer, but when we have someone, she will be more likely to actually represent the majority interests of women,” said Steinem, founding co-editor of Ms. magazine.