On Wednesday, March 16, 2011 I joined Feminist Frequency‘s Anita Sarkeesian on KPFK’s Feminist Magazine in Los Angeles with host Lynn Harris Ballen. Anita discussed critical media literacy and vlogging as a viable way to bring feminist and gender critiques to audiences outside academia in a way that makes them, not only more accessible, but more relatable. I join the end of her segment to discuss WAM! LA 2011, the second annual WAM-It-Yourself event in Los Angeles, hosted at Santa Monica College. Tune in for Anita’s engaging discussion and details on next week’s line-up of presenters from visual artist Daena Title, the editors of Ms. Magazine discussing the first year of the Ms. Magazine blog to body image activist, Claire Mysko, author of Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?, to Anita herself plus many more. Don’t forget to RSVP to the event here.
March 17, 2011
February 17, 2011
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.
January 25, 2011
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.
January 21, 2011
Written by Hugo Schwyzer. Originally posted at Hugo Schwyzer. Cross-posted with permission.
Last night, I went with some friends to the Young Feminists Speak Out event in Santa Monica, co-sponsored by Ms Magazine and other progressive organizations. I knew several of the organizers through Ms and the Feminist Majority (the offices of which are walking distance from my house).
The gathering was at a fun and funky clothing store. Boys with long hair were jamming on guitars when I walked in and made my way to the “bar” for a diet Coke in a plastic cup. I joked to my friend Monica that it was like going to progressive events in the Eighties: the same music, the same plastic cups, the same sorts of flyers on tables. I had a flashback to Berkeley, circa 1985: back then the flyers at feminist gatherings decried militarism and encouraged organizing to support the Sandinistas and divesting from South Africa; today, they decry militarism and demand withdrawal from Afghanistan and the closing of Guantanamo. It’s a mighty over-used cliché, but plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
But the speakers were terrific, including Melanie Klein (of Feminist Fatale and a fellow community college women’s studies prof); Morgane Richardson, Brie from Revolution of Real Women and Miranda Petersen and Myra Duran, both from Feminist Majority. (I’m sure I’m leaving someone out.) I got to meet some great folks whose work I admire, like Pia Guerrero, the founder of Adios Barbie. We had many of the heavy hitters of SoCal feminist activism all together, and that was wonderful.
Events like these, as several people pointed out, are less common in Los Angeles than they are in San Francisco or New York. Angelenos famously have a reputation for refusing to drive long distances for events on weeknights, though that’s more a stereotype than reality. I had students who came from the northern San Fernando Valley and from east of Pasadena, spending more than an hour on freeways to get to the event on Lincoln Avenue. Whatever the reason, gatherings like this are rarer than they probably ought to be.
The discussion got off to an awkward start, as the older folks in the room picked up on what we know was unintentional ageism. One panelist in her twenties said that an “older generation of feminists had fliers, we have Twitter.” My forty three year-old self looked at my dear friend and collaborator Shira Tarrant, who was standing with me in the back of the room. Shira and I are old enough to be the parents of most of the speakers – and we were the ones with our iPhones and Blackberrries in hand, tweeting live updates. (Check the hashtag #femla.) It was an innocent but annoying mistake that we hear a lot: the speaker had confused the kind of tools we used for organizing when we were their age with the kind of tools we use for organizing now. At least in my circle of activists, some of the most social-media savvy feminists (the ones with heavy Facebook, blogging, and Twitter presences) are old enough to remember Watergate. We don’t stop learning new tricks when we turn 40, people!
January 20, 2011
Check out KPFK radio‘s Feminist Magazine interview yesterday with Young Feminist Speak Out: Los Angeles organizer Morgane Richardson of Refuse the Silence, panelist Myra Duran and my co-moderator, student organizer Miranda Petersen.
Listen in here.
December 15, 2010
Appeals for film ratings are not uncommon. Filmmakers frequently protest when the MPAA dishes out a verdict they feel is undeserved. So when Blue Valentine was rated NC-17, it wasn’t surprising when the producers filed for an appeal. (An NC-17 rated film won’t be carried at most major theater chains, can not be attended by anyone 17 and under, and television networks and newspapers won’t run ads.)
As part of the appeal, the films stars, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams each composed letters defending the film, which ended up receiving a lot of press on a variety of blogs. In his letter, Gosling stated:
“You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.”
He also stated in an interview with E!
“The MPAA really needs to…There is something very distorted about this reality that they’ve created, which is that it is OK to torture women on screen…Any kind of violence towards women in a sexual scenario is fine. But give a woman pleasure, no way. Not a chance. That’s pornography.”
It’s surprising to hear anyone in Hollywood discussing the patriarchy and repression of women, even more so to hear a male movie star do so. The Notebook may be bad for you, but Ryan Gosling is good for feminism. The filmmakers won their appeal, and Blue Valentine was issued an R-rating. The film will open in limited release in the U.S. on December 31st, 2010.
August 13, 2010
In response to Kate Fridkis at Huffington Post – “Why I Don’t Call Myself a Feminist Anymore.”
According to Fridkis, the word “feminist” conjures up a lot of negative images. That I don’t disagree with. (A good way to test this theory is by telling your male boss that you’re a feminist). What I do disagree with is just about everything Ms. Fridkis asserts thereafter. I am a feminist who is offended by a lot of bad behavior – none of them include the shaving or not shaving of armpits, the wearing or not wearing of high heels, or calling god a “he” (as I believe that what we call “god” is both masculine and feminine and both aspects should be appreciated and honored). And, the founder of this here feminist site is an adherent to the regular mani/pedi.
But, the way that Ms. Fridkis dismisses feminism’s validity in this post-modern, “post-feminist” society is offensive. Yes, feminism has some baggage, and yes, it is a fractured movement. It has history. And, the requirement of the movement and the activists in it are always changing. To use feminism to gain a personal sense of freedom, then throw it out and attempt to negate its power and efficacy as a movement and in the lives of others is offensive. To truly be feminist, Ms. Fridkis should have continued the struggle and fought to change the negative connotations that she freely admits are associated with the word.
For most feminists being a feminist is not “an act of defiance” as it was for Kate; it is a self-identification that defines the ways in which they live their lives and informs the way that they struggle for equality along-side activists from every social justice movement be it gay rights or racial equality. It becomes a part of you that could no more easily be extracted than a healthy part of your body.
Feminism’s work is not done. 21.6 Million American Women have an eating disorder; 1.5 Million American Women will be the victim of domestic violence this year; 0.03% of the CEO’s of Fortune 500 company’s are women (that’s 15 of 500); Female members of the United States Military stop drinking water at 7 p.m. to reduce their chances of being raped. And, those are simply a few of the obvious problems HERE. Globally, the work that is to be done to improve the lives of women is limitless. The very least of their concerns is body hair or what to call god.
So, Ms. Fridkis, I don’t really mind if you don’t want to be a feminist, but please don’t continue to disseminate the fallacious message that feminism is dead and expendable. It invalidates the life-altering experiences of your sisters and the work that remains to be done here at home and globally.
June 20, 2010
It’s hard to escape the subject of sex; images of sex saturate advertisements, gyrating teens proclaim abstinence, millions of dollars of federal money has been funneled into abstinence-only “sexual education,” virginity has become another commodity sold to the highest bidder, teens are sexting and wanna-be celebrities are caught in sex-tape “scandals,” sex trafficking is the number one crime worldwide, daughters vow to save their virginity for their husbands by “marrying” their fathers with purity pledges while male virginity is mocked, pornography informs mainstream heterosexual notions of sexuality, girls are increasingly sexualized at younger and younger ages, women are “rejuvenating” and blinging out their vaginas, sex scandals are commonplace whether it be a celebrity, politician or religious leader, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish pornography from pop culture.
Frankly, I’m bored with and annoyed by this cultural obsession with sex. These manufactured, one-dimensional images of heterosexual sexuality constantly shoved down my throat (no pun intended). Running parallel to the cultural obsession with sex (and nude or near-nude ladies that grace countless magazine covers, billboards and populate advertisements), is the obsession with female virginity (so much so that many women opt to have their virginity restored via plastic surgery).
Clearly, with all this sex out there, the important issues regarding sex and sexuality are glossed over and given little media coverage. What remains in the public eye remains a vapid, one-dimensional image of sexuality and a perpetual reinforcement of the good girl/ bad girl (madonna/whore dichotomy). In this strange cultural climate where contradictory messages are being sent simultaneously, Therese Schecter is a breath of fresh air.
April 12, 2010
Yes, I was disappointed with Lady Gaga’s interview with the Norwegian press. It left me confused. Lady Gaga is vocal on the ancient and persistent sexual double-standard that promotes male sexuality and suppresses female sexuality. She marches for gay rights. How could she deny being a feminist? Huh?
But, that confusion and disappointment has turned around for several reasons.
I was happy to recently read that she dropped the f-word to the LA Times and self-identified as a bit of a budding feminist as a reflection of her status as an ever-evolving woman. Super cool. Like Noelle Williams, author of the article that revealed Gaga’s new affinity for the feminist label, I believe this young, dynamic and out-spoken woman has the ability to shift the young public’s perception of feminism and feminists. The bottom line is, Gaga has the power to influence.
That’s why her recent comments to the Daily Mail got me excited. She was talking about sex, safe sex, conscious sex. What’s not to get excited about?
She started by commenting on the rate of HIV infections among women:
‘The rate of infection worldwide is higher than ever for women in our particular demographic,’ says Gaga. ‘Those most at risk are women in my age bracket, 17 to 24 [she is 24], and Cyndi’s, which is 38 to 60 [Cyndi is 56]. Part of the problem is that women in those groups are not getting tested. Here in the UK, for example, the statistics are that 73 per cent of women have not been tested for HIV. This is a disease that affects everyone, not just the gay community, and right now it’s mostly affecting women.’
The bottom line? Protect yourself. Don’t let someone convince you not to use a condom. Many young heterosexual women don’t use condoms because they fear disapproval or rejection from the men they want to be with. And that compromises their safety and health. What a positive and powerful message to send to young women in a culture saturated with endless sexually explicit images and messages (and simultaneously disempowers women, encouraging them to be silent).
I was equally excited to read her statement on sex, celibacy and a woman’s right to choose to be sexual or not:
What it’s about, she concludes, is having the confidence to stick to your guns. ‘I remember the cool girls when I was growing up. Everyone started to have sex. But it’s not really cool any more to have sex all the time. It’s cooler to be strong and independent.’
Incredible! Thank you, Gaga. Thank you for using the spotlight to relay intelligent and important messages on timely and pertinent issues.
“It’s cooler to be strong and independent.”
YES! How often do young girls and women hear that? Not that often in our pop culture arena. There have been scores of articles reporting on the increase of oral sex and intercourse among tweens. Many of my students are TA’s in elementary and middle school and they’ve had first hand experience with 12 year-old girls performing oral sex for tween boys. One student told me he walked in on his friend’s little sister giving her male friend a lap dance. When they asked her what she was doing she replied, “playing MTV.” She was 9 at the time.
Sex and feminism have had an ever-changing relationship. Pro-sex feminism was a response to the critique of pornography and female objectification made by anti-pornography feminists such as the group W.A.P, Women Against Pornography. Feminists since the new millennium have been quick to point out that, yeah, enjoy your sexuality but don’t rest your sole sense of empowerment on sex. I won’t tackle that entire issue here. I just want to point out that Gaga’s statement on sex, the decision not to have sex, to feel empowered to make conscious decisions for yourself is totally feminist and totally awesome. It’s also very much needed as a counter to the ceaseless and confusing messages about sex that bombard young women today. Thank you, Lady Gaga.
Guest post by Rachel O (yeah, she’ll be a regular contributor very, very soon):
Despite the fact that’s she been acting since the age of 10, Ellen Page’s career didn’t take off until 2007, when she starred in Juno. Juno was an indie film that got huge, and Ellen Page became a well-known name. Her roles both pre- and post- Juno, have proven good women’s roles aren’t just as “hookers, victims, and doormats” as Shirley McClaine once said. She’s played everything from a young girl who turns the tables on an online perv in Hard Candy, to a kick-ass high school roller derby girl in Whip It.
While Juno raised some questions about its message, and inspired a lot of pro-choice/pro-life debates, I found the film undeniably Pro-Choice. It showed pro-choice isn’t just about having abortions – it’s about having options – whether it’s to have a baby, give it up for adoption, or get an abortion. When asked about the two opposing interpretations of the film, Ellen said in an interview just a week ago,
“I am a feminist and I am totally pro-choice, but what’s funny is when you say that people assume that you are pro-abortion. I don’t love abortion but I want women to be able to choose and I don’t want white dudes in an office being able to make laws on things like this. I mean what are we going to do – go back to clothes hangers?”
Page doesn’t just speak about women’s issues in terms of politics, she addresses the way women are handled in her business – Hollywood. It made headlines last year when the head of Warner Bros. announced they would no longer allow women to be the lead of their films, because women couldn’t bring in box office bucks. Whenever a woman-dominated cast does less-than-stellar at the box office, it is usually dissected. What happened? What went wrong? What does this mean for women in Hollywood and the roles actresses will get? Page has experienced this first hand. Whip It was a huge hit with critics, but only managed to bring in $4 million opening weekend. As if the above quote isn’t enough to make you love her instantly, when asked about what Hollywood is like for women,
“I think it’s a total drag. I’ve been lucky to get interesting parts but there are still not that many out there for women. And everybody is so critical of women. If there’s a movie starring a man that tanks, then I don’t see an article about the fact that the movie starred a man and that must be why it bombed. Then a film comes out where a woman is in the lead, or a movie comes out where a bunch of girls are roller derbying, and it doesn’t make much money and you see articles about how women can’t carry a film.”
As if that’s not bad enough, women in the media business are expected to look a certain way, and shamed, ridiculed, denigrated when they don’t. Even women who promise to be beyond the pressure give in and sell out. Personally, I think Page is gorgeous, but tabloids and gossip blogs aren’t about embracing beauty and making women feel good about themselves. Page admits she’s not beyond this pressure herself.
“I hate to admit it but, yeah. I definitely feel more of a sense of personal insecurity. I really try and smarten up when I feel that way but sometimes it does get to me. The fact is, young girls are bombarded by advertisements and magazines full of delusional expectations that encourage people to like themselves less and then they want to buy more things. It is really sad and it encourages the consumerist cycle. Boys used to have it slightly easier but I think they are now getting more of the same kind of pressure. Look at all the guys in junior high who think they should have a six-pack.”
It’s a little sad that reading an interview like this is such a big deal, because so few people in Hollywood are willing to express themselves in this way, and say these things in a public forum. Having just recently become media literate myself, it’s awesome to hear an actress I admire speak about such widespread but underreported issues. This summer, Ellen will be starring in Christopher Nolan’s new film, Inception. I feel confident the film, and her role in it, will be nothing short of amazing.