By Melanie Klein–My students and I talked back to mainstream media by creating our own messages. We let them know that we’re fed up with what we’re being given and told them what we want.
Sometimes anger can spark real change, especially when it gets us to move away from thinking “What’s wrong with me?” and start questioning what’s wrong with a culture that makes us feel so bad about ourselves so much of the time. Margaret Cho knows a little something about that. She went off in a much-publicized and justified Twitter tirade last week. After being on the receiving end of some snarky comments about her body, Cho lost it. As she eloquently put it, “I blew a f****ing gasket. I screamed out loud and tracked the perps down and blocked them, but not before really ramming it to them in the strongest language I could use.” For years she’s been told she needed to lose more weight, she wasn’t pretty enough, and worse. Cho reacted to this latest criticism in a massive, over-the-top rant, during which she basically told the haters to shove it.
When you’re repeatedly told you don’t meet the ridiculously narrow and unrealistic expectations of beauty, that negativity can mess with your head for a long time until you eventually just get sick of it…and then get totally pissed off. And the way I see it, getting pissed off is a whole lot healthier than retreating into self-hatred.
While not all of us have our anger at this body-hating injustice shared across the internet, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that it isn’t valid. As I quoted in an earlier post:
It is that act of speech, of “talking back,” that is no mere gesture of empty words, that is the expression of our movement from object to subject – the liberated voice.” –bell hooks
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.
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.
The SMC FMLA gives students at Santa Monica College an opportunity to speak to the 2010 candidates by setting up the “photobooth of change” on campus during Club Row. See what college students had to say weeks before the November 2010 election.
Yesterday, we celebrated Women’s Equality Day and the 90th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in West Hollywood with Councilemember Lindsey Horvath, Councilmember Abbe Land, veteran activist Zoe Nicholson, Kamala Lopez of Las Lopezistas and Gloria Allred. We honored Allred’s 30 dayfast in recognition of the continued need for the unpassed ERA and officially kicked off ERA 2010 Launch! Fellow blogger and president of the SMC FMLA, Rachel O, vice-president of the SMC FMLA and I represented Santa Monica College’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, a chapter of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s efforts to bring feminist issues across college campuses.
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?”
Susan B Anthony, after whom the 19th Amendment is nicknamed, once said, “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
In a time when women were prohibited from wearing pants, donning “bloomers” to straddle a bicycle saddle was seen as a bold statement of protest, liberation, and freedom. As the bicycle’s popularity soared in the 1890’s, it became a symbol of mobility, and as women began moving out of the cloistered domestic realm, the bicycle became not only a symbol but a tool of activism.
Today, especially in Los Angeles’ Car Kingdom, the bicycle is still a symbol and a tool of activism. It’s a bold statement against oil consumption, traffic, and pollution, and like all other forms of activism, it’s not easy. Cyclists are often denied their rights to the road by motorists and law enforcement. Riding a bicycle can be dangerous and discouraging. It’s not too unlike confronting men with their sexism, suffering the humiliation of gendered condescension, or constantly wondering if people are seeing you or your sex.
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)
For their final project in WS 30: Women and Pop Culture, this group of young feminists created their own blog and created a film relaying their experiences.
Blogs are quickly becoming one of the main ways that activists are stay in touch and stay updated with current events. And as active readers of blogs- may they be crafting, cooking, or political- we understand the impact that they can have on others. So when it came time to decide what we wanted to do for our group project, a blog made sense.
There are many great blogs dedicated to feminism out there, but there aren’t many written for and by college students. Most of the influential blogs that we read are written by women in their late 20s and beyond. While these are a great resource to the feminist community, it can be difficult to relate to some of the content when you’re still in college and haven’t quite entered the working world yet. Our blog, FemineUs, was designed to fill that gap. We wanted to create a safe space where young feminists could freely discuss their opinions on what was going on in the world.
FemineUs met our goal of creating that safe space. Each of us was able to post about issues that were important to us and other women our age. Some of the posted topics included personal reflections on body image, critical analysis of reality TV, and health issues among others. The readership of our blog spanned continents as we received hits from places such as Iran, South Korea, and New Zealand.
This project was a learning experience for all of us. We hope that the advice we provide in our video will be of use to other feminists looking to start their own blog.