Friday, January 16, 2009

Feminist Blogger Friday #1: Interview with Frau Sally Benz

Good morning, everyone! I'm very excited to announce the start of a new feature here at Fourth Wave. The second Friday of every month, we'll be posting an interview with a feminist blogger. I anticipate it will be an excellent opportunity for FWF readers to learn a little bit about another blogger and help us all appreciate, one blog at a time, the great diversity that is the feminist blogosphere.

Without further ado, I present you the very first in a series of Feminist Blogger Friday Interviews. For today, I've interviewed Frau Sally Benz, creator of Jump off the Bridge and contributor at The Feminist Underground and CHICKS ROCK!.

1. Sally, your blog was one of the first feminist blogs I came across when I started researching for Fourth Wave. I’m not sure now entirely how this transpired, what search terms I used, etc., but for this and other reasons I’m very happy to have you here as my first Feminist Blogger Friday interviewee! What drew you to start your own blog? Did you initially imagine Jump off the Bridge as a personal or public endeavor (or some combination of the two)? And how do you feel it’s developed since?

I had been reading blogs for several months and had started commenting a few months before I started my own blog. But I found myself feeling shut out by a lot of the comment threads on blogs. I also wanted to expand on my thoughts, but had no outlet for that. So I decided to just start my own blog where I could say whatever I wanted and engage people in conversation that way.

I always imagined my blog as a combination of the public and private. My passions are feminism, activism, politics, citizen engagement/participation, etc., so I knew that was what I mainly wanted to talk about. But I also love turning my brain off every so often and just listening to music, or finding recipes, or reading, and I wanted to be able to do that on my blog, too. And because I need an outlet just to keep myself sane and to seek solidarity, I also do often lean towards the personal. It’s been hard to keep a balance at times between all of these elements, but I think so far it has been ok. I hope that in finding more time to write, it’ll be easier to balance these things, while still staying true to my focus on feminism, activism and politics, with other fun things thrown in from time to time.

2. You’re also a contributor over at The Feminist Underground and, recently, at CHICKS ROCK!, a blog off-shoot of The Women’s Mosaic. How did you get involved in The Feminist Underground and The Women’s Mosaic, respectively?

The Feminist Underground was one of the first blogs I found (I think through a comment Habladora wrote somewhere) while I was starting to come up with ideas for my own blog. I loved the energy on there and Habladora is just such an awesome writer, so I was a groupie for a while. I wrote a guest post in response to her call for submissions on feminist definitions, and she had been keeping up with my own blog and commenting here and there. One day she asked me if I wanted to be a contributor over there, and I ecstatically agreed.

For CHICKS ROCK!, it’s a much shorter story. I’ve been working with The Women’s Mosaic for a couple of years now and when they came up with the idea of starting a blog, I ended up becoming the head of that project. I knew about the blogosphere and had a strong sense of TWM’s vision and back then I also had the most time (I have much less free time now). So I’m a contributor, as well as the editor/blog mistress, if you will.

3. Do you think of blogging as work or play? And speaking of work, what’s your day job? Do you have aspirations to someday take up blogging or some form of writing or journalism full-time?

This question made me LOL! Blogging is work and play, depending on when you ask me. It is certainly A LOT of work to write, edit, maintain, troubleshoot, moderate, etc. for one blog, let alone keeping track of three, even while sharing responsibilities on two of them. Sometimes posts just come very easily to me – either because I have a lot of free time, something has sparked a reaction inside of me, I’ve found something of interest, etc. But sometimes I’m struggling just to put sentences together. Writer’s block hits hard, and it’s even harder to deal with that when my work schedule is so unpredictable sometimes.

I work for a women’s rights organization at the moment, and volunteer part-time for The Women’s Mosaic. My responsibilities are a bit all over the place for both, but I like it most days. :-)

I’ve always loved writing and editing and anything having to do with either, but I’ve never considered doing it full-time or professionally. Who knows, though… it’s a new year!

4. Are there some days that you just have no interest in blogging? What do you do to inspire yourself to write?

There are plenty of days when I have no interest whatsoever in blogging. If it’s been a while since I posted on Jump off the Bridge, then I try to at least throw up a video or something to have something on there. I feel guilty otherwise!

Sometimes when I set out to write a post, but don’t know what to write about, I just start reading through news websites and react to whatever I find on there. My guy also sends me links every so often when he sees something he thinks I’ll want to write about. This is usually a good way for me to at least write something substantial, but it doesn’t always work.

5. As we both know, a lot of the work involved in maintaining a blog is cultivating and sustaining readership. Do you have any advice for people relatively new to feminist blogging about how to gain readers and encourage comments on their blog? Did anyone give you any great advice when you first got started that you’d be willing to share?

My number one advice for gaining readers is to comment, comment, and then comment some more on a variety of other blogs. I think a lot of people would say the same thing. If people like what you have to say and/or if they keep seeing your name on comment threads all over the place, they’ll get curious.

Aside from that, the advice I always read is to keep a regular schedule, but I struggle with that as I already said.

I’d also say take advantage of places that promote link love! These are posts where you can link to a few of your own posts with a short description to get traffic & comments on your blog. Womanist Musings does it on Saturdays, Feministe on Sundays, Shakesville on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We do it on The Feminist Underground and CHICKS ROCK! from time to time as well.

Taking advantage of social networking sites is also good, depending on how comfortable you are on those to start with. Facebook has a Networked Blogs app and you can also create a group or fan page for your blog. Twitter is great for promoting your posts. I’m not a big MySpace fan, but I’m sure people do it on there too and other places.

As far as encouraging comments, I still need help with that one. If you know of any tips, please share. :-)

6. I would have to agree with you about the advice to comment prodigiously yourself, but if I ever learn some secret comment-boosting formula, I'll be sure to share! Now, less about blogging, but more about feminism: how do you embody your feminism in your day-to-day life and/or how is feminism part of your daily life? Can you recall any specific event in your past that made you decide to identify yourself as a feminist or do you feel that feminism has always been a part of who you are?

I work for a women’s rights organization, so that helps me feel feminist-y. The blogosphere is a great way to incorporate feminism into your daily life. Whether it’s questioning the status quo, taking action on issues around the world, or just learning about things people write about, it’s a great way to really work out your feminist muscles.

I also just have conversations with people whenever the opportunity presents itself. I make people question why they don’t call themselves feminists even though they believe in pretty much everything we believe in. I try to break down oppression/privilege to them, and teach them about the struggles women have dealt with throughout history. I’m also a big proponent of including men in the conversation, so I make them see how feminism helps them too.

7. What do you feel is the most important issue facing contemporary feminism?

More than any one particular issue that feminists fight for, I think there is a lack of inspiration and effective strategy amongst feminists. There is not enough focus on grassroots efforts, not enough communication and partnership with people who don’t call themselves feminists (but have similar goals), etc. I think it’s a shame, for example, that people are still so intimidated by feminism. If you ask them what they believe in, they often agree with you about a lot of things, but refuse to call themselves feminists or to work towards the very things they believe in. I think in the future, we need to focus on addressing these things in addition to the issues already in the feminist agenda.

8. Along those lines, do you have a favorite feminist anecdote?

I do have one! I have several actually, but I’ll use the one from my feminism definition post at TheFU:

My guy's aunt could barely say the word "feminist" without getting a look on her face like she just swallowed sour milk. I started asking her questions:

"Do you have a job?"
"Do you believe you should keep the money you make instead of giving it to your father or husband or brother?"
"Of course."
"So you consider yourself pretty independent?"
"Then, I hate to break it to you, but you're probably a feminist."
"No I'm not, just because I keep my own money?"
"Well, there was a time way back when, when women weren't allowed to keep any money or property. Women had to fight to earn that right."
"Really? I never knew that."
"Just like they had to fight for the right to get divorced from abusive men, keep their own children, make their way to the top at their jobs."
"Well, I knew that, but not everybody wants that."
"You're right, but feminism gives you a choice. We didn't have that choice before and now we do. That's why I'm a feminist. I want to keep fighting for all the choices we should have that we don't."

Somewhere around here, my guy came into the convo and said he's a feminist too. This seemed to boggle her mind. We explained that feminism is about men AND women. Sure, we're different. Some differences are biological, some social, some a mixture of the two. But that doesn't mean that gender stereotypes don't hurt us all.

At the end of our little chat, she said "Well...I guess I'm a little bit of a feminist."

9. That's a great story! And now for something completely different: is there anything that you feel particularly fan-girlish about that you could discuss (or blog about) for hours on end with the right audience (a particular television show, a certain band, puppies, politics, etc.)?

I could do this about Harry Potter (hard-freaking-core!). A few others, to a lesser degree: the Beatles’ or Alanis’ music and Disney movies.

10. Speaking of movies, I noticed on your profile page that When Harry Met Sally is one of your favorite movies. It’s one of my favorites, too! What’s your favorite scene?

Woohoo! When Harry Met Sally!! I love every minute of that movie so this is by far the hardest question in this thing. While the orgasm scene is pretty classic stuff, I love the scene when Sally finds out Joe is getting married. Starting with the teary phone call to Harry right up until the hilarious look on Harry’s face after they’ve slept together – it’s BRILLIANT! A close second would be the scene at the Sharper Image when they sing “Surrey with a Fringe on Top” and Helen finds them there. I have to go watch the movie now...

That's all for now folks (and, for the record, my favorite WHMS scene is also the teary phone call bit!). Sally, thank you so much for granting me this interview. To everyone reading this, tune in February 13th for the next installment in this new interview series. In the meantime, I hope you'll continue to join us here at Fourth Wave for posts on myriad other topics, and, if you have any suggestions for people you'd like to interview or if you yourself would like to author a guest post wherein YOU conduct the interview, please don't hesitate to drop me a line (fourthwave[dot]feminism[at]gmail[dot]com).

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Super-feminist Obama to the rescue!

I posted a few days ago about Ms. Magazine's "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" Obama cover. Since then, a lot of blogs besides Feminist Law Professors (where I came across the cover the first time around) have shared their thoughts.

Some people love it. Some people hate it. And I feel pretty ambivalent. I definitely don't love it, and while I think that it's great that Obama has privately declared himself a feminist, I would like it a whole lot more if 1) this had been a public declaration and 2) if the magazine cover didn't implicitly suggest that Obama's come to save feminism (and you can't tell me that Superman iconography isn't explicitly about the idea of rescue).

In any case, check out these other posts discussing this cover and consider this post as a link round-up of sorts of all these varying opinions.

The original Feminist Law Professors post was, unfortunately, followed by what I think was an unnecessarily snarky and (I think) insulting response by Megan at Jezebel (thanks Laruen, for this link!) who claims that Ann Bartow of Feminist Law Professors and Amy Siskind writing over at The Daily Beast are the equivalent of P.U.M.A.s (Hillary-lovin', Obama-hatin' Democrats) and just "have their collective (organic cotton, sweatshop-free) panties in a wad." She concludes:
So maybe it's not so surprising they missed the point Ms. was trying to make in celebrating a President who supports so many of the policy issues that have been on the feminist movement's agenda, like wage equality and reproductive choice — it's still only the composition of his chromosomes that matter to some. I think that's called sexism, right?
If you like the cover, great, but I see no reason to be rude to those who have offered legitimate reasons why they think it's problematic.

As would be expected, Melissa McEwan over at Shakesville offers a much more thoughtful response to the cover:
That Obama has not regularly and unapologetically identified himself as a feminist makes this image problematic—as does the reality that, while Obama is clearly better on women's issues than the retrofuck lunkhead and his band of misogybag miscreants who've been leading the country the last eight years, he's not been what might fairly be deemed a leader on feminist issues.
Yet he's represented here as a superfeminist, which reinforces the same old narrative we see played out over and over again when it comes to men's participation in a "women's domain"—the women of feminism (or parenthood, or housecleaning, or rape prevention, or early childhood education, or nursing, etc.) are doing What Women Do, but the men who engage strongly in these areas are ZOMG SO SPECIAL AND BRILLIANT AND SELFLESS AND HEROIC!!!!11!

Rarely does an image so perfectly, depressingly capture this phenomenon, this reflexive tendency to over-reward men for doing what, in a just world, would be the bare fucking minimum to be considered a decent person.
On the other hand, Tracy Clark-Flory, over at Salon didn't really think anything of the cover initially, but understands the conflict:
When I saw the cover yesterday, I thought: Well, that's silly. Yes, we're all crossing our fingers that Obama is a superhero who will rescue our country, and his policies do seem basically feminist. But isn't it, I don't know, a little premature to declare him a superhero, particularly of feminism?

Then I considered that perhaps the intended message was simply that Obama, widely heralded as our nation's savior, also happens to be an undercover feminist. And then I moved along. But the cover has since sparked a feminist firestorm online.
In response to criticism, Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms. posted an explanation over at The Huffington Post, claiming
When the chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation board, Peg Yorkin, and I met Barack Obama, he immediately offered "I am a feminist." [...] But we are not giving President-Elect Obama a blank check. For our hopes to be achieved, we must speak out and organize, organize, organize to enable our new president's team to achieve our common goals. Ultimately, we must hold our leaders' feet to the fire or, to put it more positively, uplift them when they are caught in the crosscurrents of competing interests.
All that said, Jill over at Feministe loves the cover, as does Deborah at Girl w/Pen, and I respect both of their opinions a great deal, so it's by no means a cut and dry issue.

If you've found other posts about this cover or you've written one yourself, feel free to post links in the comments!

ETA: Again, care of Feminist Law Professors, this CNN video about the Ms.'s cover:

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Sesame Street, "30 Rocks"

Okay, so this isn't completely feminist, but it is completely hilarious:

(H/T Neil)

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nominate a Beautiful Girl

Every summer since 2000, New Moon Girls magazine has celebrated 25 special girls ages 8-12 for their inner beauty. Nominations for the annual “25 Beautiful Girls” issue can come from anyone.

So, take a moment to tell New Moon Girls about the inner beauty of your sister, daughter, granddaughter, niece, neighbor, student (or other girl you know) and help to inspire girls everywhere with their own unique inner beauty: the beauty of action, caring, creativity, passion, etc.

The magazine is edited by girls and its Girls Editorial Board selects from the nominees to feature girls (in the May/June issue) representing different aspects of inner beauty. All the other girl nominees receive special recognition and are honored at

Anyone can nominate a girl – her family, someone in the community, another girl. And girls can also nominate themselves! I encourage you to nominate one or more girls by downloading their short form. Then complete the form and email it as an attached document to

The deadline is midnight Central Standard Time next Monday, January 19, so do it today!

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Top 100 Gender Studies Blogs

Check out this great list of Top 100 Gender Studies Blogs! I personally think they left a couple out, but there were also quite a few on the list that I didn't know about and look forward to exploring. Also, guess who's in excellent company?!

(H/T The Feminist Underground)

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Gay bishop at Obama's Inauguration

Though it doesn't completely make up for the Rick Warren debacle, I suppose that having openly gay Episcopal bishop V. Gene Robinson deliver the invocation at the big Inauguration kick-off concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday is a step in the right direction.

What do you all think? Does this make up for it? Is it just a band-aid? Is Obama just covering his tracks? Or is this about as much as we can expect from a politician?

(H/T to Fred for the link)

(By the way, I'm sorry about all the short posts lately. I've been trying to schedule and organize my non-blog life and work in the New Year. I should be back on track soon.)

ETA: Nancy Goldstein at Salon argues that Robinson is too little, too late.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Not a bad word about Tina Fey

Suck it, internets!

(H/T Feministing)

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Musical Androgyny

The Cliks are one of the most fascinating bands in existence - the lead singer, Lucas Silveira, in particular.

Here's why:

As someone who thinks she knows enough about music to write about it, I haven't actually been listening to popular music for very long. I'd been a classical musician since I was quite young, but I've only been listening to popular music for a few years, and one of the first things I noticed as I started to listen was the overwhelming influence of sexual attraction. And not simply as a subject of the music, but as a part of the music itself.

The vast majority of popular music is sung, and one's attraction, or lack of attraction, to the singer (either in voice or appearance) greatly influences the way we perceive the music. The instrumentalists, too - one could write books on the guitar as a phallic symbol. This isn't a bad thing, certainly! I used to wonder, though - what would androgynous popular music sound like?

Not asexual music - that's what (some) classical music is for. The question is more difficult than it seems. What does an androgynous singing voice sound like? The first thing that comes to my mind is the sound of a boy's choir - but that brings us back to the asexual problem! I really can't imagine what normal, adult, androgynous singing would sound like. (Although, it's quite possible I simply haven't heard it yet!)

There is another solution, though. I first heard the Cliks on NPR. My first thought was, I like the singer. She has a great voice! After I listened to the interview and realized that Lucas was an FTM, however, it became obvious that he had accomplished something amazing.

The combination of a female (but not overly feminine) voice with a male (but not overly masculine) appearance creates androgynous music without sacrificing sexuality. In fact, many of the Cliks' songs are rather overtly sexual. By avoiding the typical feminine or masculine attraction, we are forced to focus on the song and on the music itself - yet without losing sight of the singer.

Is anyone familiar with a comparable MTF singer? I would imagine that the effect would be much the same.

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How Do You Think?

When I was in college, I took a Women’s Studies seminar. The instructor was head of the Sociology department, had written a few books, was said to be quite entertaining, and so I thought it might be an interesting class. I was an English and History major, but everyone needs electives, preferably ones that don’t add a tremendous amount of further reading to an already maxed out class load, and this one seemed to fit the bill. And after all, I attended a women’s college and was (and still am) a lesbian; surely there was some criteria written down somewhere that I simply had to take at least one women’s studies class, right?

About a week into the class, which, by the way, turned out to be one of those round-table, discussion things that had never appealed to my more linear style of learning, my instructor informed me that I, “thought like a man”. This appellation came at the end of a rather vigorous discussion, the subject of which I must admit escapes me after all these years, but I do recall being quite vocal (as those who know me can quite imagine, I am sure) and arguing several points with a classmate and my instructor. I have to say I was taken aback at the time and the years have done little to alter that reaction.

I tell this story primarily because I was accused (if that word actually applies) again recently, and again by another woman, of “thinking like a man”, and being equally flummoxed as to how to respond. What exactly does it mean to “think like a man”? What does it mean to “think like a woman”? I know that I have a very logical perspective on things, that I prefer facts to supposition, that I have a tendency to travel from point A to point B, but are those exclusively “male” traits? Or are they “male” traits at all? Are all of these things, our need to quantify thinking as being of one sex or the other, merely societal inventions designed to perpetuate male-dominated hierarchies?

Given my own dearth of answers to any of these questions, I thought that I might put it to all of you, dear bloggers, to tell me what you believe it means to “think like a man/woman”. Any opinions? I'm quite curious to hear your thoughts.

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Feminist Flashback #19

Today, for your Feminist Flashback viewing pleasure, the work of artist Barbara Kruger. She began producing her feminist collage/photographic art in the late 1970s and continues into the present:








ETA: One of her more recent, explicitly-political works, from 2004:

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This is what a feminist looks like?

Um, Ms. magazine, I don't quite get this:

Are you trying to say that Obama qua Superman will save feminism? Oooh! Or is he going to save feminists from themselves? Or...or...maybe he'll achieve everything that feminists have been trying to achieve because he's...wait for it...Superman.

Perhaps within the actual magazine issue this baffling cover will become clear, but for now I'm flummoxed.

(H/T Feminist Law Professors)

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