Saturday, February 7, 2009

Don't Divorce Us!

I'm a little late to the band wagon (cue excuses), but better late than never. Check out this fantastic video from the Courage Campaign (and then click on the link to sign the letter):

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

(H/T pretty much everyone, but especially Alas, A Blog because I saw it there first)

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Sex Work and Privilege

There have been a couple of interesting and definitely provocative posts on sex work in the blogosphere in the last week. What else is new, right? This time, though, I'm joining the discussion.

Renegade Evolution does a good job of answering some of buggle's assertions about "special" sex workers, but she leaves out what I think is the most important point.

What we need here is a discussion of privilege.

Those who enter into any industry with lots of privilege are going to be safer, healthier, and less likely to take risks that lead them to brutal experiences. (By privilege, I mean having a penis, white skin, no disabilities, heterosexuality, good health, a supportive family, good education, and/or an already-healthy pocketbook, to name a few.)

If people with the above privileges do experience brutality, they're also more likely to be able to access support systems to help them escape it and recover from it.

People with less privilege have fewer options for making and keeping money. In general, our system puts these people at a disadvantage, systematically and through no fault of their own. If someone desperately needs money, they'll do desperate things to get it. In any line of work, underprivileged folks are more likely to be taken advantage of and harmed.

This definitely applies to sex work, probably even more than many other industries because of the stigma surrounding it.

I would never, ever want to ignore the speech of people who've been brutalized at the hands of prostitution. They need everyone's help and compassion. I also don't want to discredit the people who do have a choice in what they do with their bodies and their decisions to take money for sex.

We absolutely need to talk about the systems of privilege and hardship that cause women (and men, let's not forget they do sex work too) to unwillingly enter an industry where they're raped and abused. The fact that privilege protects people from all kinds of pain (in all aspects of life) and yet leaves others to be trampled is deeply fucked up.

I think, however, that this is a larger issue of helping under-privileged people and not simply getting rid of sex work. (Intersectionality, anyone?) Prostituted women and men are just one group of under-privileged people who need help and need a voice.

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It’s Heather’s Birthday

Heather Henderson was born 36 years ago today. Few people have made such an impact in my life—and the lives of many, many others.

For 9 years, I worked for a national nonprofit (now defunct) called Dads & Daughters®. When the amazing Michael Kieschnick and I began building the organization in 1999, we hired this smart, organized, creative and determined young woman named Heather Henderson to help us launch it.

Heather had edited and did marketing for national magazines, been a newspaper reporter and coached gymnastics. This multitalented woman created the Dads & Daughters® website and membership system from scratch, did reams of research, ran the office, did media interviews, and a thousand other things. She quickly established relationships with hundreds of activists around the country, sharing information and promoting this unique organization, dedicated to making the world better through the power and potential of father-daughter relationships. Sometimes it seemed like she did the work of five people!

All the while, she radiated her insight, affection, knowledge, determination, skill and curiosity. And was an incredibly good friend—the kind who is supportive and encouraging, while not being afraid to tell you the truth, no matter what.

One Wednesday morning in the fall of 2000, Heather didn’t come to work, which was very unlike such a punctual, responsible woman. I went up to her house to see if anything was wrong. I found Heather lying facedown on the floor in her kitchen, dead of a heart attack at age twenty-seven.

After eleven years of struggling with anorexia and bulimia, this talented, lovable, and well-loved woman’s heart gave out at a sinfully young age, three days before her sister’s wedding and seven months before her own. Her death crushed her fiancĂ©, family and friends. Activists and professionals nationwide called and emailed our office in shock that such a young and talented person was gone. I get very angry remembering her lifeless body and thinking about how anorexia and bulimia snapped off her life -- and how they take root so readily in our culture.

Serious eating disorders, from bulimia to anorexia, are among this problem’s worst manifestations and may end in permanent health damage or death. Eating disorders have one of the highest death rates of any mental illness. Up to ten percent of the nation’s young women are diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia or some other form of disordered eating. Sadly, Heather’s friends and family have a very human face to put on that cold statistic.

Heather was far more than her eating disorder and her death. It is the rest of her that I remember most—and celebrate—on her birthday today.

I hope that you will celebrate the incredible girls and young women who are part of your life. Always remember that the world can be made better through the power and potential of father-daughter relationships—including yours.

Learn more @

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Thursday, February 5, 2009


I'm doing a little film production work the next few days, so forgive me if I'm a little lax in posting. (I've been up since 4am today, and my sleep deprivation will probably worsen over the weekend.) So, in lieu of a real post, I'm offering something you all will probably enjoy just as much as my verbiage: the trailer for Joss Whedon's newest television show, Dollhouse, starring Eliza Dushku. It looks like it could be an interesting show, and I love Dushku, but I'm a little disturbed by the premise, as described:
Dollhouse stars Dushku as Echo, one of several "Actives" in a super-secret organization. The Actives can be implanted with memories, personalities, and skills, and serviced out to clients for almost anything--espionage, expertise, and even sex. The best part of the business? When the implant is wiped free, the Active has no memory of what just happened…or so people think.
Superagents who can conveniently be used for anything from espionage to sex? Ummm... Since Whedon is somewhat of a complicated feminist, I guess only time will tell if the show holds non-misogynistic water. While we're waiting for the verdict, check out the preview:

Dollhouse premieres Friday, February 13th at 9/8c on FOX.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Characters Unite

Check out this new campaign from USA Network called Characters Unite:

Click here to sign the pledge, which reads:
As a character of the USA, I hold these truths to be self-evident--that life is richer and we are stronger as a country when we see beyond stereotypes and appreciate each other for the characters that we are. I take this pledge to stand against prejudice, intolerance, and hate, and promote greater acceptance and understanding in my daily life. After all, characters are what makes us USA.
I know that as much as this is a public service announcement for tolerance, understanding and acceptance it's also an advertisement for the USA network. But, you know what? When this is the kind of marketing being used (as opposed to this), when the company is actively showing support for differences of race, ethnicity, sex, gender and sexual orientation, I'm okay with a little self-promotion on the side.

(H/T Queers United)

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Separatism is separatism is separatism...

Obviously, I'm all for female solidarity. I'm also all for lesbian solidarity. Gay solidarity. Transsexual solidarity. African American solidarity. Latin American solidarity. The solidarity of feminist dog lovers. Etcetera. Really, any group of people who want to claim solidarity with each other, I'm all for it (as long as they, as a group, are not hurting, harassing or terrorizing any other group or other individuals). On the other hand, I feel tremendous ambivalence towards separatism, as the extreme evolutionary end of solidarity, in pretty much any form. While my discomfort with separatist conservative religious sects/cults has pretty obvious roots, I'm almost (though not quite) as uncomfortable with the idea of lesbian separatism. To wit, from yesterday's New York Times:
THEY called it a lesbian paradise, the pioneering women who made their way to St. Augustine, Fla., in the 1970s to live together in cottages on the beach. Finding one another in the fever of the gay rights and women’s liberation movements, they built a matriarchal community, where no men were allowed, where even a male infant brought by visitors was cause for debate.
Behind a locked gate whose security code is changed frequently, the women pursue quiet lives in a community they call Alapine, largely unnoticed by their Bible Belt neighbors — a lost tribe from the early ’70s era of communes and radical feminism.
These days, [they] worry about the future of Alapine, which is one of about 100 below-the-radar lesbian communities in North America, known as womyn’s lands (their preferred spelling), whose guiding philosophies date from a mostly bygone era.

The communities, most in rural areas from Oregon to Florida, have as few as two members; Alapine is one of the largest. Many have steadily lost residents over the decades as members have moved on or died. As the impulse to withdraw from heterosexual society has lost its appeal to younger lesbians, womyn’s lands face some of the same challenges as Catholic convents that struggle to attract women to cloistered lives.
Now, the idea of a peaceful, quiet existence with other women who share my values and hopes and dreams sounds sort of idyllic, I guess. Actually, no, it sounds pretty stifling to me, but I can still understand the appeal for others, particularly women of the second wave generation who were forced to live false lives and endure the very real social stigma of lesbianism for so many years. If the world were still like it was thirty or forty years ago, then I might also be able to get behind women continuing in this tradition. And the idea of lesbian-only or women-only spaces during certain periods of life (e.g. women's colleges, all-female nursing homes) doesn't bother me. However, I agree with Amy over at Appetite for Equal Rights when she writes, "I don't see much of a problem with women spending their final years in a matriarchal community - I just hope that this doesn't trickle down to younger feminists, until, in the most extreme case, the world turns into isolated communities of different demographics, and integration is a thing of the past."

I think the world is a very different place now. It's not perfect by any means, but society isn't going to keep changing for the better if we go into hiding. The idea that women in these communities are worried about "recruiting" young women to their "way of life" so it will "survive"...makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes we have to accept that things which were great innovations of the past, seemingly offering an ideal solution to a very real problem, may not hold up to the test of time. Not all "ways of life" can remain relevant...or should.

In response to the above article, The Bilerco Project's Father Tony asks, "Does growing up mean extending our comfort zone to encompass people of different color and sexual expression and identity? Sure, but do we ever stop pining for a kitchen filled exclusively with the scent of our own kind? Are some of our efforts at inclusion and assimilation deluded?" And I would answer yes, growing up (as an individual and as a [LGBTQ] community) does mean extending our comfort zone, just as we expect others to grow and learn and expand their comfort zone(s). As Miriam of Feministing opines, "My main problem with these communes (besides my lack of desire to be part of one) is that they do nothing to push, challenge or transform the wider society. It's commonly known that when someone knows a queer person they are much more likely to be accepting of queer people overall. If we separate ourselves, what are we doing to change the world for new lesbians growing up?" I agree. As individuals we are obviously free to do as we choose, but as a community I think we should feel compelled not only to broaden the horizons of diversity for future generations, but also to broaden our own horizons so we, too, can learn to understand, accept and communicate with those different than us.

Perhaps we might still occasionally pine for that kitchen filled with "people like us," but the world would be very dull and very insular indeed if we spent all our time there making cupcakes and never wanted to step outside the grounds. As for the inclusion and assimilation bit, sure, sometimes we'll meet a brick wall and we'll have to beat our heads against that wall for a while (which, as John Cage discovered, is sometimes a good way to make music). That doesn't mean it's a delusion, only that it's hard work. If you don't try to change things, you'll never know what could have happened if you did. And I'd take lots of hard work with the possibility of a better future over that any day.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

That Martha Washington was one hot first lady!

Can someone please explain to me why we should care about Martha Washington more and/or find her more interesting now because historians have revealed how hot she actually was?

From The Washington Post, "Fresh Look at Martha Washington: Less First Frump, More Foxy Lady":
Our image of the mother of our country, vague and insubstantial as it is, is drawn from portraits painted after her death showing a frumpy, dumpy, plump old lady, a fussy jumble of needlework in her lap, wearing what could pass for a shower cap with pink sponge rollers rolled too tight underneath.

But today, 250 years after Martha and George tied the knot, a handful of historians are seeking to revamp the former first lady's fusty image, using the few surviving records of things she wrote, asking forensic anthropologists to do a computerized age-regression portrait of her in her mid-20s and, perhaps most importantly, displaying for the first time in decades the avant-garde deep purple silk high heels studded with silver sequins that she wore on her wedding day.
Contrary to popular opinion, even among some historians who should know better, Martha was not fat when she married George. Yes, she liked to read the Bible, but she devoured gothic romance novels, too. She capably ran the five plantations left to her when her first husband died, bargaining with London merchants for the best tobacco prices. And unknown to most, while George was courting her she had another suitor, a Virginia planter with much greater wealth and stature. In a little-known letter, Charles Carter wrote to his brother about what a beauty she was and how he hoped to "arouse a flame in her breast."
I'm not saying we shouldn't care about America's first first lady--in fact, I like the part of the article which describes how she was actually an astute businesswoman--but is the new!surprising!exciting! fact that she was a foxy fashionista really relevant and newsworthy? I guess we should give Martha her due, but the whole article just seems a bit weird to me.

(Thanks to my friend Lauren for the link.)

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Feminist Flashback #22

For this week's Feminist Flashback, something decidedly sexist and exploitative, and yet one of my favorite B movies of all time: Barbarella, from 1968, starring Jane Fonda.

Sometimes it's hard for me to explain the contradictions in my feminist psyche. In this case, I don't have anything to say in my defense...

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