Friday, December 31, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Thirty-One


See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Thirty

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Twenty-Nine

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Twenty-Eight

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Twenty-Seven

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Twenty-Six

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Twenty-Five

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Twenty-Four

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Twenty-Three

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Twenty-Two

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Twenty-One

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Twenty

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Nineteen

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Eighteen

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Seventeen

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Sixteen

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Fifteen

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Fourteen

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Thirteen

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Twelve

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Eleven

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Ten

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Nine

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Eight

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Seven

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Six

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Five

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Four

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Three

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day Two

See the full calendar here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Feminist Countdown to 2011 ~ Day One

From my post over at the Ms. Blog:
When I was a very young child, I received a late November package all the way from my grandmother in Germany. It was a large, cloth Advent Calendar, designed to hang on the back of my bedroom door and fitted with little pockets, one for each day leading up to December 25. In each pocket she’d stuffed a tiny toy or bit of candy for me to retrieve day by day. I took so much pleasure in this calendar that my parents felt compelled to fill it for me each year around the holidays, well into my preteens.

I wanted to pass on the joy of this countdown-of-treats to Ms. readers. So, I present to you a secular version of my childhood calendar to help us at the Ms. Blog count down to 2011.

As the days pass, you’ll see more and more of the image behind the dates revealed. You’ll also be offered links to virtual feminist “treats”–a video, a game, a story. Check back each day to see what’s next!

Presenting my Feminist Advent Calendar! Day One is up...

(Click here to visit the home page with the full calendar)

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sex, Lies and Ballet: Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

My review of Aronofsky's thriller Black Swan, opening on Friday, is up over at the Ms. Blog. Here's an excerpt and the trailer:
From now on, when someone claims that they were on the “edge of their seat,” I will always think of director Darren Aronofsky’s newest film, Black Swan, opening nationwide December 3. By the time the credits rolled, my hands were sore from gripping the armrests and my body protested with audible pops as I stood to exit the theater.

Black Swan is a top-form thriller–visceral, moving, and stunningly beautiful–but it’s also a film about the darkness our own minds conjure up when we’re overwhelmed by ambition. Aronofsky, whose other recent films (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) evidence a similar fascination with the intense humanity and obsessive desires of his characters, brings us, with Black Swan, a powerful and poignant glimpse into the fever dream of a perfectionist ballerina. However, there are moments when his narrative falters and when it feels like the director’s pandering to a mainstream audience that may not actually need to be seduced.
Read the rest here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Coming Soon...

Just a note to say that new and exciting content is coming soon! I have a review coming out this week over at the Ms. Blog of Darren Aronofsky's balletic thriller Black Swan (starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel).

And, on Wednesday, I'll reveal my (epic!) Feminist Advent Calendar. Stay tuned!

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Call for Essays: Here Come the Brides: An anthology about lesbian marriage

One of the Ms. Magazine editors and a Ms. blogger have joined forces to edit what sound like a fascinating anthology about lesbian marriage. The call for essays is below, and you can find more information at their blog.
Call for Submissions: Here Come the Brides! The Brave New World of Lesbian Marriage (Seal Press, 2012)

2,000-4,000 words

Editors: Audrey Bilger and Michele Kort. Audrey Bilger is the Faculty Director of the Writing Center and Associate Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College. Michele Kort is Senior Editor at Ms. magazine, a freelance writer and author of three books (including Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro).

The Book: Same-sex marriage is obviously a hot topic these days, and we want to look specifically at the lesbian side of the equation. Given the secondary status of women throughout much of the globe, bonds between women—particularly intimate connections—can redefine the political landscape as well as the domestic realm. Anna and Eve don’t get as much press as Adam and Steve, but they’re potentially more threatening to the status quo.

The anthology Here Come the Brides will primarily cover legal marriages, but also lesbian commitment ceremonies in locales where the legal status of gay marriage is still up for grabs. We hope the book will be able to represent a diversity of points of view in terms of race, class, ethnicity and geography, and incorporate transgender perspectives. Although the book will be generally upbeat about lesbian marriage, we’d also like viewpoints from those who are opposed to either being married themselves or who have issues with the institution or the politics of same-sex marriage.

We’re looking for a variety of material: primarily first-person essays, but also secondhand observations, bridesmaid/mother-of-the-bride/etc. stories, and even analytical pieces (as long as they’re written in an accessible style). We’re open to graphic essays/cartoons as well, and we’re eager to see lesbian wedding ephemera: great photos, invitations, newspaper wedding announcements, vows, guest favors.

Needless to say, we’re looking for terrific writing—colorful, moving, funny, surprising, insightful. We can imagine essays that cover a lesbian marriage from soup to nuts, but we think it’s more likely, given the word limitation, that it might be best to focus on a certain aspect of lesbian marriage or of your particular wedding—at least as an organizing principle. Here are some questions to think about; perhaps one or more will inspire a resonant tale:

What made you decide to get married?

How significant was legalization in your state/country in your decision?

How/who popped the question?

What trepidations did you have about marriage?

What does marriage mean to you? What doubts do you have about the institution?

How is marriage the same/different for a lesbian couple?

How did your families handle the news? Was there any particular joy or heartbreak about someone who did or did not support your wedding?

What was the planning process for your wedding? Was it a fancy affair, or just a trip to the courthouse?

Did you have a best man/woman or bridesmaids/bridesmen?

Do you have children, and were they involved in the wedding?

Do you have a good story about your wedding outfits? About the ceremony/reception? Who did you invite?

If you’re an interracial couple, did that bring out issues beyond your lesbian connection? Same question if one or both of you is transgender.

Was your wedding traditional—or did you purposefully try to “queer” it?

Did you write your vows? Did you put out an announcement in the newspaper?

Did you go on a honeymoon?

What do you call your spouse?

How has lesbian wedded life met/exceeded/confounded your expectations? Does your relationship feel different since you married?

Has marriage made you more/less radical about LGBT issues?

Deadline for submissions: January 30, 2011.

Please consider running your ideas past us before you plunge into writing. We also encourage early submissions.

Please email inquiries and submissions to: abilger[at]cmc[dot]edu

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Friday, October 22, 2010

President Obama: It Gets Better

One of the first things President Obama's done in a while to make me happy that I voted for him:

Also, a compelling feature by Peter Baker in this past week's New York Times Magazine assuaged a wee bit of my presidentially-motivated ire. You can find the online version of it here.

And, obviously, thanks to Dan Savage for starting all of this.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Secretary Hilary Clinton: "Tomorrow Will Be Better"

Secretary Clinton (then candidate Clinton) was one of the reasons I started this blog two years ago. I'm so pleased to see she hasn't changed:

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Secretariat: The Horse and The Housewife

I've got a new film review of Disney's Secretariat up over at the Ms. blog. Here's a snippet:
If you love horse movies, then you’ll probably love Disney’s newest, much-hyped Secretariat, which fits firmly in the genre of other recent triumphant equine epics–Seabiscuit (2003), Hildalgo (2004) and Dreamer (2005)–with one notable exception. Despite the film’s plethora of close-ups of the stallion’s deep, soulful eyes and its re-creation of some of Big Red’s most thrilling races, Secretariat isn’t really about the horse; instead, it’s a thinly-veiled ode to equality, courage and how a housewife becomes a savvy businesswoman in the eyes of her family and a nation.

Don’t get me wrong, Secretariat is still the star of his own movie; after all, he is a racing legend, something that the heavy-handed Biblical comparison which opens and closes the film strains to remind us. But the film’s ultimate goal seems to be to tell us the back-in-the-barn story of Big Red’s legacy, which goes something like this, “Behind every great horse, there’s a great woman.”

Click here to read the rest!

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

For Colored Girls

I'm really looking forward to seeing Tyler Perry's new film For Colored Girls--hope it lives up to Ntokage Shange's brilliant For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf from which it's adapted. The film has an incredible cast, including Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington, Whoopi Goldberg and Macy Gray.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Privilege and Passing: Root Post Redux

So, earlier this week my first post went up at The Root, a "daily online magazine that provides thought-provoking commentary on today's news from a variety of black perspectives" that I've been following for quite a while. I was thrilled to finally post there, and I hope to continue to write for them. You can find my first post, and the accompanying thriving-but-contentious comment section, here.

In the essay, I write about unintentionally passing (for white and straight) and the associated privilege(s) that passing "allows" me. What's interesting is that I specify in the post that it's usually those who are not people of color themselves that mistake me for white (or, occasionally, Latina or Israeli, the latter mostly because of my first name), and yet many commenters felt inclined to assure me that I look black to them. That's fine, and I actually appreciate that some people recognize me as black, as I have never felt particularly included by black culture (with a few exceptions). However, many people do not realize I am black when they first meet me (and they certainly don't peg me for a lesbian at first glance ). What these moments of misrecognition beget is situations of (white) (heterosexual) privilege. The questions I'm asking then is how to mitigate the privileges I'm given upon first impression and whether it is even my responsibility to do so.

Privilege is, in a way, even more insidious than outright racism because it's so easily glossed over and so often completely subconscious. For example (somewhat over-simplified but illustrative): as a biracial femme lesbian who looks white, middle class and straight, I have never been harassed by a stranger on the street due to either my race or my sexuality. The thing is that most people who might find my race or sexual orientation threatening don't recognize me as different from the rest of white, straight America. But I'm as gay as these women (who, adorably, are all look-a-likes of a male, teenage pop star) and as black as, say, Obama, regarding whom countless commentators asked if America was "ready for a black President." (I'm not saying that Obama isn't black or that biracial individuals aren't black; I'm just trying to make a point about the way visibility and privilege merge.)

In any case, despite the autobiographical format of my essay at The Root, I'm actually not overly concerned with how these factors affect me as an individual. I'm more interested in how privilege, especially privilege that relies almost entirely on visible identity markers, functions for those of us whose outward appearance doesn't match our actual identities. In what situations are you only how others perceive you rather than how you perceive yourself?

(As a postscript, it is worth noting that the question of the relationship between visibility and identity is especially trenchant today, on the anniversary of September 11. How often in the past nine years have those who appear Middle Eastern or Muslim been judged based on what they look like rather than who they are?)

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rizzoli and Isles

So I've been trying to work up the energy and find the time (classes just started and there's always a week or two adjustment period when a new semester begins where you seemingly have no time to do anything but read and prep your lectures/discussions/in-class exercises...things'll settle down, right?) to compose a post about TNT's new original series Rizzoli & Isles, which is just winding up its first short (10 episode) season. If you're interested in checking it out, I'm pretty sure TNT has all but a few of the episodes available for viewing online.

In any case, Rizzoli & Isles is a little bit like Cagney and Lacey met a G-rated version of Sex and the City and had a love child that watched a lot of Charlie's Angels growing up. A crime show boasting two female protagonists, a detective (Rizzoli, played by Angie Harmon) and a medical examiner (Isles, played by Sasha Alexander), who are close friends (so far so good) and incessantly talk about men (ay, there's the rub), Rizzoli & Isles definitely breaks The Bechdel Rule. Not to mention that the actual solving of crimes seems to take second shrift to the show's desire to create as many touching, personal moments between its two eponymous heroes as possible (suffice it to say, that while I consider many of my female friends to be near and dear to my heart, I do not go everywhere with them or find myself having sleepovers with them every other night). And yet, despite it's near absurdity, I am absolutely in love with this show.

In lieu of a post where I actually try to parse my rationally-suspect love affair with Rizzoli & Isles, I'll leave you with a list of links about the show. In the interest of selfishness, this will also be a convenient placeholder for me to come back to when I find the time to craft a real analysis, one that, I hope, will get to the heart of why recent crime shows with more than one female lead continually seem to falter (Women's Murder Club, Law and Order: Trial by Jury, and the UK's Murder in Suburbia, to name a few) and what TNT might be trying to do differently with Rizzoli & Isles.

And now, the links:

NY Times: An Unlikely Pair Bond on the Homicide Beat
LA Times: Television review: 'Rizzoli & Isles'
USA Today: 'Rizzoli & Isles' commits the ultimate crime of tedium
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune: TNT, USA launch women against crime
AfterEllen: "Rizzoli & Isles" is TV's first lesbian buddy cop show (it just doesn't know it yet)

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Prop 8 and the Supreme Court

David S. Cohen has an interesting piece up over at Feminist Law Professors about Prop 8 and whether the gay marriage debate will still be relevant by the time the appeal reaches the Supreme Court:
Not only is there momentum, but there's also demographics. Gay marriage has much more support by younger voters than older voters. Four years is enough to make a huge difference in this regard, as older voters die off and younger people become voters (or, if voting age already, become more consistent voters).

Thus, in November 2012, I think it's a pretty good bet that the voters of California will vote for same-sex marriage. They voted down same-sex marriage in 2008 by only 4 points. In 2012, they'll probably vote in favor of same-sex marriage by a small, but definite margin. Prop 8 will be history. Assuming a normal appeals process, involving a panel of the Ninth Circuit, an en banc review by the Ninth Circuit, then a certiorari petition to the Supreme Court, followed by briefing and argument, I just can't imagine the Supreme Court deciding before November 2012.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Free Sakineh

A most worthwhile petition; please consider following the link and signing (also post to Facebook, Twitter, etc.):
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43 year old mother of two, was convicted in May 2006 of having an “illicit relationship” with two men and received 99 lashes as her sentence. Despite already having been punished, she has now been further convicted of “adultery” and has been sentenced to death by stoning.
See the petition for more information and/or read Marina Nemat's statement further down on the same page. She writes, in part:
Iran’s political prisons, including Evin, are still quite operational. People are tortured and executed in Iran on a daily basis. When atrocities happen, those who remain silent and don’t speak or act against evil become its accomplices. We cannot afford to wait for governments to bring about real change. I believe in the power of the individual. Each one of us can make the world a better place, even if only one small step at a time. We can create a ripple effect that will expand and eventually turn into a tsunami.

Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani has been condemned to death in Iran. There are many others who are languishing like her in their grave-like cells, maybe facing painful deaths. They are not alone or forgotten. Even if we don’t know all their names, we are with them. I do not believe in violence, but I do believe in the power of voices coming together as one. Let’s get our voices heard.
Again, if you feel that this is a worthy cause (and, really, how can you not?), please sign the petition.

For more information, you can check out these news stories (among others):

Will We Again Abandon Afghan Women? | The New York Times

Details scarce surrounding Iranian widow’s ‘crimes’ | Globe and Mail

Iran stoning sentence woman asks to be reunited with her children | The Guardian

An Appeal for Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani | The Huffington Post

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's a Mad, Mad World.

Just bringing you a wee bit of Mad Men-related self-promotion while I prepare several other posts for the blog. That said, stay tuned in the next week for my thoughts on the films Inception, The Kids Are All Right and (possibly) Salt.

First off, my article, "Feminism in a Mad World," is out in the current issue of Ms. set to hit newsstands August 10th (subscribers should receive or have already received the issue this week). I'll post a brief excerpt here, but you'll have to check out the print version to read the rest:
Set in the tumultuous 1960s and exploring the lives of philandering ad men, discontented housewives and sexualized secretaries, Mad Men may not immediately leap to mind as a great exemplar of feminist television. And yet, since the show emerged as the sleeper hit of 2007, going on to win the Emmy for Outstanding Television Drama two years running, it’s been a hot topic on the feminist blogosphere and around water coolers everywhere, alternately lauded for its strong female characters and criticized for its nostalgic rendering of the halcyon days of sanctioned workplace misogyny.

It’s true that Mad Men doesn’t shy away from the fast-paced, chauvinistic world of 1960s advertising and all that comes with it: the unchecked sexual harassment of pretty secretaries by male executives; housewives with little to do other than raise the children and serve as eye-candy at business dinners; uncensored racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism; and an old-boys-club atmosphere, complete with office drinking, smoking and philandering. But amidst all this homosocial revelry, Mad Men gives us a cadre of women characters who, like Peggy, are multifaceted and prodigiously fleshed-out—a rare treat for a television drama, a genre in which women are often given short-shrift in favor of the male protagonist.
If you just can't wait to think and talk about the intersection of Mad Men and feminism until the Summer 2010 Ms. hits the newsstands, feel free to pop on by the Ms. Blog and comment (please do comment, even if you want to argue with me!) on my review of the season four premiere (it's funny, so much has changed on the show, and yet my opinion of the show and its relationship to feminism hasn't changed that much in the past few years).

And...if you don't feel like reading at all, you can listen to my recent radio interview with Steve Jaxon on KSRO The Drive--again, discussing Mad Men--or catch me on Mary Glenney's Women's Show on Saturday between 10am and noon.

ETA: You can find a recording of my second interview about Mad Men here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mad Men in Ms. Magazine

I'm very pleased to announce that the summer issue of Ms. Magazine, including an article I wrote about feminism in the television show Mad Men, will be hitting newsstands August 10th. My angle? Well, here's the title of my piece: "Feminism in a Mad World: Mad Men’s women remind us how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go."

Check it out!

I'll also be reviewing the first episode of Mad Men's fourth season, which airs this Sunday on A&E, for the Ms. blog. The review should be up early next week, so stay tuned.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fundraising Success for How to Lose Your Virginity

I'm a little late on the uptake because I've been travelling overseas for the past two weeks, but I just wanted to post an excited announcement for anyone interested that Therese Shechter's new documentary project How to Lose Your Virginity was able to raise $12,909 through Kickstarter, almost $3000 above their goal for the month! Hopefully this means that we'll be seeing Shechter's film out on the circuit really soon.

I return stateside next week and will resume blogging then.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

How to Lose Your Virginity: The Interview (Director's Cut)

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing documentary film director Therese Shechter about her new project How to Lose Your Virginity for the Ms. Blog. She was incredibly generous with her time and I'm very excited for the new film. Our full interview is available below:

Aviva: After your 2005 film, I Was a Teenage Feminist, what made you decide to use virginity as the topic of your next project? Was there some sort of defining event—I know in the trailer the defining event seems to be around you wearing white for your wedding—or was this something that you’d been thinking about for a while?

Therese: I’ve been thinking about it since we were editing I Was a Teenage Feminist because we used some old educational “now you are a woman” kind of films and I was really struck by how lame the whole process of educating girls about their bodies and their sexuality has been in the past—especially the ones that taught you hygiene and proper dating so guys wouldn’t think you were the wrong kind of girl. [Laughs] So that kind of stuck in my mind for a while. Then all this news about abstinence-until-marriage programs was coming out and that added to it. Like, what the hell are we teaching people? What are we telling—especially girls—but girls and boys?

We started doing some interviews and the most interesting thing people were talking about to me was issues of virginity. So, if we talk about virginity we can talk about politics and religion and history and economics and popular culture and it became this incredibly large, fascinating topic.

And then I got engaged [laughs] and my other films had been very personal; they’ve grown out of a very personal questioning I had to a larger social issue. I couldn’t find the personal connection to this film and I thought, oh, I’m just going to play it straight and it won’t be a first-person film, and it just wasn’t working because I don’t seem to be able to tell stories unless they’re rooted in my own experience—for better or worse. When I got engaged and we started talking about the wedding, it hit me like a ton of bricks: that I was this 47-year-old woman who was expected to put on this drag show of purity.

A virgin bride?: Shechter at a bridal fitting in New York City*

The other component is that I’ve been doing this blog for two years, The American Virgin, where we cover some of the same topics. I really couldn’t wait for the years it takes to make a film to talk about this stuff so it’s been a great outlet as a way of bringing this discussion up now. I started getting a lot of letters from people who had not yet become sexually active—a lot—for all sorts of different reasons. Some of them were religious, some of them had pretty significant social issues, and others just by circumstance hadn’t found the right partner to become sexually-active. And these were people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s... There seemed to be a lot of shame and a lot of secrecy attached to that and I started hearing that we were one of the few safe spaces where they could talk about this and not be ridiculed.

I got into this thinking I hate the way young women are being shamed for being sexual people; I never thought about how people were being shamed for being non-sexual people, too. [Laughs] It’s like that double-edged sword; you just cannot win this.

A: Obviously you feel that a personal connection is a central part of your methodology as a filmmaker. Would characterize it as a “personal is political” kind of connection or is it just something that you need to do to invest in a project?

T: There’s a long line of feminist filmmaking that takes that exact thought and builds on it [Shechter later emailed to tell me she was thinking specifically of Joyce Chopra's 1973 documentary Joyce at 34]. So there’s a long tradition of this personal storytelling because it’s like the consciousness-raising groups: You tell your own story and you realize that it’s actually a universal story. It’s not your personal problem, it’s a much larger systemic problem, and understanding that other people are going through something perhaps similar is a really big moment of consciousness-raising and can lead to group action. So, I don’t want to say the feminists invented it [laughs], but that’s a classic feminist thing.

A: Do you feel like virginity and sex are feminist issues as well?

T: I feel like the way our culture approaches it are feminist issues. I feel like the way issues around female sexuality are discussed, I’d say almost anywhere, is a feminist issue. Women are often being told how to behave and what the right way to do something is and the right way to be sexual. When you look at the abstinence-until-marriage movement where they’re using moral shaming and they’re using the worst possible gender stereotypes to make a case for women remaining pure until marriage.

Although that world of pledges and purity balls might seem sort of foreign and confined to a small minority, we're symbolically enacting the same process out at any traditional wedding. The father ritualistically gives his white-clad daughter, along with her implied purity, away to the husband, who makes no statements about his own sexual history. It may be symbolic and the bride may not be a virgin, but we're still embracing the ritual and symbolism as something sweet--as opposed where it comes from which is an ancient patriarchal economic transaction. If that’s not a feminist issue [laughs], I don’t know what is!

There’s a larger issue even in the mainstream world that’s sending messages that girls should behave this way. Chloe Angyal just wrote something for the Christian Science Monitor about this study: a woman comes into a restaurant clearly bruised and a guy comes in after her and is physically threatening her, and they wanted to see who would go and help her.

But the upshot of it was that when this woman was dressed in slightly more revealing clothing—a low-cut blouse, a mini-skirt, high heels, sending the coded message of “I’m a sexual person”—people were less likely to help her.

I don’t think people are openly writing that [sexual people should be devalued] but it seems to be embedded in so much coverage we hear about campus rape and how people are being treated, in the rewards of not having sex for female [film and television] characters and the punishments if they do. That old horror-move trope: the couple has sex and then get killed. That’s changing a little bit, which is refreshing, but there’s still so much of that.

A: Do you think that sort of double standard about sex is something that sex education can help with?

T: I think that the essential problem is telling people what to do. It would be nice if the conversation was somehow shifted to “Some people do this and some people do that and some people like this and some people like that,” which is way more nuanced. And leaving space for whether you’re having sex or not having sex as not the thing that defines you.

Obviously we want to talk about being healthy and safe and especially, especially, about things like consent. Are you having sex because you really want to have sex? Or are you having sex because you think you have to or because someone’s made you? Or you think all your friends are so you should be? And we don’t talk about the consent part of this enough. Are you allowed to say “no” to your boyfriend if he wants to have sex with you? Yes! And if he says he’s going to dump you if you don’t do whatever sexual things he’d like you to do you, you should be okay with being dumped. You’re not there for that service, above and beyond all other things.

I sometimes joke that, well, you’re just not going to be popular for a while, but that’s okay. It’s okay.

A: Eventually you won’t be in high school anymore.

T: Eventually you won’t be in high school anymore; eventually you won’t even be in college anymore and everything will make more sense. It’s not a real comforting thing to say to a 17-year-old. I remember when I was 17 and I wanted a boyfriend and I wanted someone to love me and all of it, so it’s very hard to say, “If you don’t do these things you may not have a boyfriend, but that’s okay.” That’s a really hard thing to say...not just to a girl. But in some ways I admire those people who can say, “Sorry, but, I don’t want to do those things and if that means you don’t want to go out with me, I’m moving on. I’m going to the movies with my girlfriends.”

A: You interviewed a lot of teenagers for this film. Did you get a sense that they still feel like [sex is] a big deal or do you feel that the terms have changed, say, in the past couple decades?

T: It depends on the teenager. Interestingly, the people that I’ve interviewed that are sexually active or very comfortable with the concept of sex, if they are not sexually-active, seem pretty open in talking about it. And the people who are religious who are waiting for religious reasons are also open about talking about how they feel. The people who are not having sex and want to be having sex and are embarrassed do not want to talk to me. I run a lot of stuff on my blog from them, because it’s anonymous. People really want to tell their story and other people want to read that story, but it’s been very hard to get people to talk on camera. I’m negotiating with people right now…how anonymous can I make them. But, you know, I think it’s just kind of too bad, really.

A: While shooting and researching for your film, do you feel like you’ve gleaned more insight into why we have such a bizarre perspective on sex even though it’s everywhere—say, why people are so unwilling to talk about it with you?

T: People are willing to talk about it, but I’m not sure if they’re honestly talking about it. And I think when you say “sex is everywhere,” I think that it is everywhere…in people fantasies. In their imaginations, everyone is having sex but them. Or everyone is having amazing sex but them. And I think that’s a message over and over again. That’s how we sell products. That’s how we sell all kinds of media, and, I think that if people were actually honest about their…I don’t want to hear every detail about someone’s sex life, but I think if people were generally more honest about what the world of sexuality really looked like, I think it would look very different than what we see all around.

A: Was there anything that really surprised you when you were making this film, something you didn’t expect?

T: We shot on the set of Barely Legal, which is a porn franchise run by Hustler and it is a virginity porn franchise. There are no virgins in porn, despite what anybody may claim. [Laughs] These are professional actors being paid to act, let me say that right out front. We were on the set of Barely Legal and we’d spent the day before talking to someone who blogs about porn [Gram Ponante, NSFW link]; he’s actually part of the Fleshbot family, which is Gawker’s adult site. He was awesome and he gave us this really great interview, and I had come into it with some preconceived notions about what being on a porn set might be like.

We got to the Barely Legal set and it was one of the best-run film sets I’ve ever been on and everyone was cool and it was kind of a fun day. And that coupled with the complete surreality of watching people having sex right in front of you [laughs], walking around naked and whatever, I mean that was incredibly weird. But it wasn’t creepy, people were very open, and it was refreshing to spend the day with people who are so comfortable with sex and sexuality. I certainly don’t think that all porn sets are that pleasant, just like not all offices are the same. Working at one insurance office is different from working at another insurance office.

On Barely Legal's set, a wardrobe person displays the virginity franchise's signature white panties.*

It turned out to be one of my favorite shoots in the sense that it was the most interesting to me to be there and just observe it and talk to people. So, I’m reluctant to give you: oh yeah, being on that porn set was great. It’s all in the inflection. But it was fascinating and I didn’t expect that.

The other really surprising thing that I have found is…just the number of people that aren’t sexually-active. The incredible number of people that aren’t sexually-active that pretend they are because they don’t want to be shamed.

A: And because the culture tells us that everyone is, like you said?

T: Yeah, something weird happens. Up until a certain age, you’re not supposed to be sexually-active and then you cross some invisible threshold and suddenly everyone is supposed to be having sex. I think if you get out of college and you still aren’t sexually-active that seems to be the weird taboo-zone. And I have met so many people that aren’t and feel terrible. Not personally feel terrible—they’re making decisions about their lives—but feel terrible culturally. Like, God forbid anyone should find out about this.

And here I thought everyone was having sex.

A: Which I did, too, but I guess that assumption alone is a sign of the cultural backdrop. To wrap up, do you have anything specific that you want to mention that we haven’t talk about yet or any teasers [laughter] you want to give readers for what the film will encompass?

T: Yes, well the question is: what wedding dress will I wear? [Laughs]

A: Ah, yes.

T: Will Therese wear a veil? Will she be walked down the aisle by her parents? I’m sure these are burning issues for your readers! [Laughs]

There is one thing I want to say, which is that I think if you talk to people who think about this stuff a lot, they’ll always tell you virginity is this cultural construct, so let’s dismiss it. The thing is that, it may be a cultural construct but it’s still very, very important to people. I think that the idea of one’s sexual initiation, however you want to describe it, is important and we can’t just toss it out because there’s some issues around it that are problematic.

The other fascinating thing is that when you talk to people who identify as queer—who don’t engage in penis-in-vagina sex, for example—and how they perceive of the concept of virginity, which leaves them completely out of the definition that most people use because it’s a much more nuanced thing. I’ve also talked to people in the asexual community who are like, “This has nothing to do with us. We don’t even want to be called virgins because it’s defining us by whether we’ve had sex or not and we don’t have…it’s not part of our lives. So we don’t want to be defined by something that has nothing to do with us.” That’s also fascinating and makes a lot of sense; I hadn’t thought about it.

A: And even for people who are heterosexual, the definition for “what is sex?” is very different for different people.

T: Yeah, and there’s really no answer to that; there’s no blanket answer where we’re going to write up a virginity manifesto—“We’re all following these rules now”—because it’s too complicated so we can’t do it.

A: You’re raising money to finish editing a rough cut of How to Lose Your Virginity through Kickstarter and you have until July 1st to raise $10,000. And there’s a cocktail party fundraiser for the film in New York City on June 29th. So, besides donating money and telling our friends about the film, what else can readers do to help get this film out there?

T: There are a couple things and only one involves money. The Kickstarter thing is really important. To make an even modest documentary costs about $300,000. And people have been doing stuff for me for free, for really low rates, people have been fantastic. But we cannot, literally can’t do anymore, unless we have cold hard cash, [laughs] because we have to employ an editor full-time. I can’t ask someone to volunteer four months of their life to me, full-time.

So this Kickstarter thing is part of it. And we have to get to this $10,000 goal or we don’t get any of the money that people have pledged, so in the next two weeks, that’s a huge push for us. And I hate asking people for money—I can’t tell you how much. It’s the most detested part of this job, but there you go. Our budget is equal to Tom Cruise’s hair and makeup budget on some other film. And there’s no Hollywood studio asking for a feminist critique of female sexuality in pop culture. [Laughs] They’re just not. So we’re always looking for money. We just can’t ask people to do stuff for free anymore.

The other part of it is that we are looking for subjects. It is very easy for me to find white, Christian young women to talk to me about virginity. It is harder for me to find people who are queer, people of color, trans people. My subject group right now is not diverse enough and it’s something I want to remedy and I know there are people out there from those different communities that could tell their story. And I don’t care what the story is, I just want to hear their story. [If you’re interested in volunteering to be interviewed for Shechter’s film, you can contact her via her website]

A: Is there an expected release date for the film?

T: If we had $30,000 right now, we could have a great rough cut by fall. That means it would then be in the form that people want to see it in order to give us all the finishing money we need.

A: Oh wow. Great.

T: Once you have rough cut, it makes a huge difference. So, yeah, we could have it done this year. The only thing standing in our way is funding, and the funding climate is horrible for everyone. Horrible. So, we’re not taking it personally.

A: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! I'm eagerly awaiting the release of How to Lose Your Virginity.

Our new trailer! "How To Lose Your Virginity" from Trixie Films on Vimeo.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Women Can't Talk about Technology

Apparently, women can't talk about technology; they can only joyfully-yet-silently revel in the adorableness of their least that's the message I got out of Apple's design video featuring the new iPhone 4.

A few screen shots from the video of talking heads (men) and child-caretaker (woman):

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

How To Lose Your Virginity

Therese Schecter, whose first documentary I Was a Teenage Feminist I used for one of my Feminist Flashbacks two years ago and have since screened for my Women's Studies 101 class (who surprised even themselves by loving it), is working on a new documentary and needs your help!

In Schecter's words, her new project, How to Lose Your Virginity, explores why "we're so obsessed with virginity":
It's a quest to dig beneath the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t double-speak of a culture that cynically encourages both virginity and promiscuity. How can young women wade through these mixed messages–like a reality show that auctions off virgins to the highest bidder or Disney starlets flashing purity rings while writhing on stripper poles–and act instead on their own needs and desires? What’s behind this strange moment in American culture?
You can find out more over at her Kickstarter Page, where she's raising funds for a rough cut of the film.

As a bonus, here's a trailer for the new film, followed by a trailer of 2006's I Was a Teenage Feminist:

The "How to Lose Your Virginity" trailer from Trixie Films on Vimeo.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Marriage: a political prerequisite?

Is Marriage a Political Litmus Test?

New post up at the Ms. blog (I promise I'll post something just for FWF again soon; I've just been a little swamped with deadlines and sundry):
Last week, Al and Tipper Gore announced that they are getting a divorce after 40 years of marriage. It’s a “mutual and mutually supportive decision,” according to an email the Gores sent to friends and family. Since their announcement, the internet has been a-twitter with a fair degree of disappointment and confusion. To many, the Gores’ marriage epitomized an ideal union: an equal partnership, free of scandals and palpably romantic (over the past week, blogs, newspapers and cable news shows alike have been obsessing over the validity of the Gores’ steamy kiss at the 2000 Democratic National Convention).

Ultimately, it’s immaterial why the Gores have decided to separate. They’re clearly both responsible adults, capable of making their own choices and it’s frankly none of our business. However, their announcement did get me thinking about the importance of marriage in today’s political arena and, in particular, the burden of expectation placed upon the political spouse to behave a certain way in both the public and private sphere.
Read the rest of the post here!

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Monday, May 31, 2010

A thought on DADT

There's been a lot of talk about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' lately, thanks to the recent Congressional vote. This being Memorial Day, I'd like to share a few thoughts on the subject.

Specifically, I keep hearing misunderstandings about to what repealing DADT means. The core of the issue is this:

Repealing DADT will not allow gay people to serve in a hitherto straight military. Instead, it will merely allow formally closeted gay people to serve openly in the military.

This is a vital distinction, especially in light of some of the bizarre garbage (read at your own risk) that has been written about DADT.

Gay people are serving in the military, and have done so for years. In fact, allowing gays to serve was the entire point of Don't Ask, Don't Tell's creation. It was a compromise, put in place to slightly shield gay people from discovery while still technically not allowing them to serve. (A ridiculous contradiction, of course). In other words, the military in no way thinks that being gay prevents someone from being a good soldier.

Repealing DADT, then, is not really about gay people. After all, a gay person is still the same person, whether they're out or not. It's about straight people's reaction to gay people. It's the Department of Defense saying, "We believe that gay people are fine, but we're not sure about everyone else's response." (I'm simplifying here, of course, but that's the basic issue.)

I've heard any number of people, many of them active or former members of the military, who seem to think that DADT is keeping all gay people out of the military, that letting gay people in will somehow make the military weak, or (like in the article linked above) that there are huge numbers of gay people waiting to assault people, and that DADT is the only thing stopping it.

DADT is not any of this. Its repeal would simply allow gay military personnel to be honest and truthful about themselves.

So, if you know someone (especially a member of the military, as the recent bill relies on a DOD study) who might not understand what DADT is really about, please let them know. Surely the sacrifice - lives, identities, and more - of LGBT servicemembers is worth that much.

(Crossposted on Constant Thoughts)

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Strong and Invincible?

Check out my review of Sex and the City 2 over at the Ms. Blog. A teaser:
About halfway through Sex and the City 2, which opens today nationwide, the fabulous foursome of HBO’s hit-television-show-turned-feature-film-franchise perform a rousing karaoke rendition of the 1970s feminist anthem “I Am Woman” in a nightclub in the heart of Abu Dhabi. As Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte croon–“I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman”—belly dancers strut, pose and sway their hips on an elevated catwalk above them. An exercise in astounding campy discordance, this scene epitomizes both the unanticipated pleasures and the substantial foibles of director and writer Michael Patrick King’s sequel to the critically unacclaimed (yet commercially successful) first Sex and the City film in 2008.
You can read the rest here.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You...

I just returned from a Sex and the City 2 preview screening and, boy, do I have a lot of think about while I write my official review of the film.

For now, I can't say much except that I was surprised by my reaction to Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte's second cinematic turn and that the film should prove a fertile ground for commentary and discussion.

Stay tuned...

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Prepping for SATC2

Tomorrow night I'm going to a preview screening of Sex and the City 2 in Denver in order to write a review for Ms. Magazine's blog (which I will of course link to on this blog!). In order to prepare for being "Carried Away" (indeed), here are a few things of interest I came across on the interwebs this week that, for one reason or another, reminded me of the show.

First, I'm enjoying Alexandra Tweten's blog series on online dating as an "out" feminist over at the Ms. blog. Check out her most recent post as well as her previous posts.

Second, I just discovered Feminist Frequency's YouTube channel (via Sociological Images). Check out, for example, this great little video explaining the Bechdel Test for women in movies:

Lastly, I found Angela Bonavoglia's book review of Leora Tannenbaum’s new book, Bad Shoes and the Women Who Love Them compelling and incredibly apropos for a SATC-themed post. Bonaboglia writes,
At once fanciful (with illustrations by Vanessa Davis), disturbing, informative, understanding and preachy, [the book] is a captivating attempt to address the reality that many women—including feminists– insist on wearing “sexy” shoes but need some ground rules for how not to wreck their feet in the process.

What’s really interesting about Tannenbaum’s approach is the artful way that she pulls you in, empathizes, withholds judgment, then stuns you with her analysis.

She does this at the end of the book, after romps through chapters on what you should know about your feet, on “toetox” (cosmetic surgery of the foot), on the history of high heels and on the sex life of women’s shoes. Then, after gaining a reader’s trust, she asks, ever so gently, that the reader consider the “many parallels we can draw between Chinese footbinding and Western women wearing high heels.”
You can check out the rest of the article here.

Wish me luck at the preview tomorrow. I'm afraid it might be a mob scene!

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stand By Your Man?

My media column "Stand By Your Man?" on CBS's hit series The Good Wife is in this month's issue of Ms. Magazine, which will hit newsstands on May 25th! In this article, I discuss the show's eminent feminism and expound on its three strong female characters: Alicia, Diane and Kalinda.

And my article's not the only thing to get excited about in this issue of Ms (although, obviously, for me, it's what I'm most excited about):

In the cover story of the new issue, Ms. publisher Ellie Smeal reveals 25 key benefits for women in the new health-insurance reform legislation—some you’ve heard of and some you haven’t. Smeal also heralds the far-reaching gender-equity language in the bill.

A groundbreaking Ms. investigation into the anti-abortion extremist network surrounding Scott Roeder, who killed abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, raises doubt that Roeder was the "lone wolf" mainstream media has made him out to be. Investigative reporter Amanda Robb interviewed Roeder more than a dozen times to probe his longstanding involvement with the Army of God and justifiable-homicide advocates who promote the murder of abortion providers.

Also of note in the issue: A report on an upcoming class-action lawsuit that might force the military to face up to its sexual-assault problem once and for all; a story revealing the shockingly high rates of maternal deaths and illness in the developing world and what the U.S. can do to address the problem now; an on-the-ground look at life for women in Haiti’s refugee camps; and remembrances of Wilma Mankiller by Gloria Steinem and of Dorothy Height by Donna Brazile.

Want to join the Ms. community? Well, you can do that here!

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

R.I.P. Lena Horne

Alas, the incredible Lena Horne, died on Sunday at the age of 92.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Parallel parking for girls? No problem.

My friend Jay sent me this great video, suggesting that perhaps it's a demonstration of the fifth wave of feminism. All I know is that this girl's got some skillz...

Via HuffPo.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Remembering Dorothy Height

A guest-post by my father, Fred Viebahn.

When Dorothy Height, the grand old lady of the American civil rights movement, died yesterday at the age of 98, it reminded me of a festive dinner nearly thirteen years ago where I was her table partner and saved her from going up in flames -- literally! (Or maybe I just saved a good part of Washington high society from having to take a collective cold sprinkler shower, fully dressed in their finest...)

It was on the occasion of the Sara Lee Frontrunner Awards, $50,000 each given by the cake & food company's charitable foundation to four notable women's favorite nonprofits. Dorothy Height had received the award in its early years and was, therefore, among the honored guests; this year, in 1997, the recipients were Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Washington Post owner Katharine Graham, Brady Campaign chair Sarah Brady and my very own poet laureate, my wife Rita Dove.

Of course Dorothy was wearing one of her elegant trademark hats. During dinner and the awards ceremony at the beautiful National Museum of Women in the Arts in D.C., she was seated immediately to my right. (Rita, in the usual Washington power festivities fashion where couples are seated at different tables, sat across the room, next to Sara Lee's president.) I had an animated conversation with the then 85 year-old, very chipper Mrs. Height about Eleanore Roosevelt, whom she had advised many years ago, about Rita's and my time at Tuskegee Institute, where the two of us had spent a semester in 1982, and about Dorothy's four decades as president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position from which she had just retired that year.

Shortly after we had turned our attention to the ceremony, which had started with a women's choir, I smelled burning cloth right under my nose; when I glanced down, I discovered to my horror that the left sleeve of Dorothy Height's jacket had come in direct contact with the table candle between her and me, and a flame had already caught on to her arm.

"I'm sorry", I said, "but you're about to catch fire", and poured my glass of water on her sleeve, while everybody else at our table, hearing my pretty loudly uttered "fire", jumped up in panic. Dorothy Height, however, after realizing that my unexpectedly aggressive behavior was not meant as an affront by someone who had lost his mind, regained her composure within seconds and pressed her napkin to her wet sleeve, just in case it was still smoldering. "That should do it", she said. "Thanks for saving my hide." The fire was out, she had escaped burns, and everything went quickly back to normal.

I shot some video that night, and uploaded an excerpt to YouTube. It's a bit crude and haphazard, with the camera panning past Dorothy Height once (she seems to be looking a bit embarrassed), then lingering a second or two on the candle that was the culprit; after the incident I moved it further away from its victim.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Taylor Swift as feminist success

It seems various assorted feminists don't like Taylor Swift. At all.

I've been wondering about this ever since I read this article (which is entertaining and enlightening, the Riese's Lady Gaga obsession aside).

But I'm not so sure Swift is as anti-feminist as she seems. In fact, I think she can almost be seen as a sort of subtle triumph for feminism.

To begin with, I don't think it's fair to compare Swift to Lady Gaga et al. Swift's target audience seems to be younger teenage and preteen girls. Lady Gaga is not at all suitable for young teenagers. She thrives on being outrageous; Swift on being innocent. There's simply no comparison to be made.

I'm don't think we can compare her with more truly feminist artists either. Take someone like Ani Difranco - her music is has at least an order of magnitude more depth and complexity than Taylor Swift's. The target audience is just not the same. Swift's music is meant for easy listening on the radio, not for inspiring contemplation on the nature of women in society.

So I'd like to compare Swift to another artist who has that 'innocent' vibe: 78violet, better known as Aly and Aj. Aly and Aj started out as a relatively Disneyfied pop act, minus most of the songwriting stereotypes that plague the likes of Swift. They matured with their second album, which which certainly not overtly feminist does have a few gems:
Were you right? Was I wrong?
Were you weak? Was I strong?
--Chemicals React, Aly & Aj (Insomniatic)

Which (unintentionally, perhaps) turns an old stereotype of stupid men and weak women nicely on its head. This is 'post-feminist' music, if you will - Aly and Aj feel free to say whatever they feel, without worrying about stereotypes, or trying to break them. This is not to say we're in a post-feminist world - far from it. But the casual presence of such ideas proves that feminism has truly accomplished something.

And that's what Swift could be like. She could be innocent, non-subversive, and simplistic, while assuming the existence of an egalitarian world. She doesn't. Her music still relies on princes on white horses sweeping princesses away.

But even in her stereotypical world there are flashes of something else. Take 'Love Story', the huge hit. The motif throughout is, "baby just say, 'yes'" - the standard pre-engagement plea. If you listen carefully, though, the line is actually sung by the girl in every case but the very last time it occurs! And I, at least, didn't even notice the point-of-view swap until I read the lyrics online. The song is still cheesy and stereotypical, but the girl is essentially proposing to the guy - hardly the standard Western tradition.

So Taylor Swift really does owe a great deal to feminism in her music; even more so in her real-life career. And that's probably more important than anything else: the young girls who listen are more likely to want to be like Taylor Swift herself than like the characters in her songs.

The point to all this is simple: An important aspect of feminism is defending the right of women to be non-feminist (not anti-feminist perhaps, but certainly non-feminist). If Taylor Swift isn't a paragon of feminist thought, she does unintentionally embody certain aspects of it; we could do much, much worse in choice of entertainment (the Pussycat Dolls, anybody?).

So what do you think - is unintentional feminism a sign of success?

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It may be impossible not to love Ellen Page

I've loved Ellen Page since Juno (and, then, even more after Whip It), and she just keeps getting awesomer and awesomer. An excerpt from her recent interview in The Guardian:
How did you feel about the controversy aroused by your role in Juno?

I was like, you know what? You all need to calm down. People are so black and white about this. Because she kept the baby everybody said the film was against abortion. But if she'd had an abortion everybody would have been like, "Oh my God". 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?

What do you think of the way women are treated in the movie business?

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.

Love. Her.

H/T AfterEllen and Feministing

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sarah Palin Redux

Check out a great post over at the Ms. blog that's related to my response to Sarah Palin and her recent return(s) to the media spotlight (had she really ever left?).

Ms. blogger Audrey's analysis is spot-on:
At the Arizona rally, Palin trotted out the maverick label and praised McCain for his anti-Obama outsiderness. But her speech had a subversive undercurrent, working the seam of age and gender at McCain’s expense. For example, to illustrate how McCain’s “man of the people” stance hasn’t won him friends in Washington, she drew on her own expertise in beauty pageants, chuckling that “He could win the talent and debate portion of any pageant, but no one’s going to dub him Miss Congeniality.” Picturing McCain in a beauty contest is inherently incongruous (would he tap dance for talent?), and then to invoke him as Miss Congeniality? Such a title feminizes him and gives Palin a home-field advantage: She was, after all, Miss Wasilla–and Miss Congeniality.

(I meant to post this last week, but it completely slipped my mind!)

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Those ridiculous tampon ads...

I'm a little late on the uptake (in other words, this video has been popping up on blogs for a few days now and I only just found the time to watch it myself a few minutes ago), but this advertisement is fantastic. Smart thinking, Kotex!

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A gay version of Taylor Swift's "You Belong to Me"

Just a little thing via Feministe: the Yellowjackets, an all-male a capella group from my soon-to-be alma mater, The University of Rochester, made an adorable queer music video set to Taylor Swift's "You Belong to Me," which, in the spirit of school spirit and cuteness, I wanted to re-post here. Enjoy!

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sarah Palin Back on TV -- What's the Harm?

I have a new post up at Ms. Magazine's blog (my first!). Here's an excerpt:
Discovery Networks’ announcement of its newest acquisition, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, a documentary series hosted by the state’s former governor, left me feeling conflicted. On the one hand, any mention of John McCain’s running mate provokes involuntary full-body shudders. I spent the presidential election campaign in a state of anxious high alert, wondering what Gov. Palin would say or do next. Wondering, in other words, what further platforms she’d find to display her homophobia (I’m sorry, tolerance for gay and lesbian lifestyles) or to pontificate about being staunchly anti-choice.

On the other hand, should her appearance on something as innocuous as an 8-hour Alaskan travelogue “told by one of the state’s proudest daughters” (according to Peter Liguori, chief operating officer of Discovery Communications) really inspire angst? What’s the harm if Palin coasts on her fifteen minutes of fame a little longer? She certainly wouldn’t be the first politician to delay her inevitable (hopefully) ride into the sunset.

But here’s the root of my unease: Despite the fact that the series will likely have nothing to do with politics, the idea of Sarah Palin’s Alaska isn’t innocuous.
Read the complete post (with links and photos and videos!) over at Ms.!

By the way, Ms. only just launched its blog a few weeks ago, and they have an excellent group of bloggers posting every day on a wide variety of topics. Take an hour to peruse the entire blog and/or add it to your feeds!

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health Care Bills and Protests

The health care reform bill just passed, and there's a bunch of unhappy people all over the country.

I won't pretend to understand the issue completely (I got bored and stopped following it closely a long time ago). But if the summaries are correct, (and the CBO is accurate, which seems reasonable), we'll get a moderate reduction in the deficit, some new taxes for the rich and people who use tanning salons, some decent subsidy expansions for low-income people, and some mild tweaks to medicaid and medicare. All quite undramatic, really.

All of which makes the protests quite bewildering.

However you look at it, this is not a new health care system. It's certainly not a single-payer universal coverage system. It's not going to allow the government to regulate the industry tightly, and it's not abolishing medicare/caid.

For that matter, the bill barely even falls under the reform category. I daresay what most feminists wanted (behind expanded reproductive coverage, which we couldn't possibly have gotten) was to ensure that single mothers, children, etc. were guaranteed health care - we didn't really even get that. The improvements we did get still filtersthrough the current (read, insanely complicated) system, which is doing a mediocre job at best. Hardly a dramatic victory.

Is it better? Probably. Will it hurt anybody? Probably not. And yet, the protests continue - "the worst piece of legislation ever presented to Congress!" as one radio program I overheard recently trumpeted.

I know a young man - twenty-something years old - who is the stereotype of the teabagger. He's white, decently educated, from a middle class background, rather (if unconsciously) racist, slightly sexist (openly), and republican as they come. He hates health care reform. Thinks it's going to give medicine to all the damn illegals (what a tragedy....) And everyone else needs to earn their own health care, dammit!

Except - he doesn't have insurance worth speaking of. He doesn't make much, his employer doesn't provide a decent plan. And if his girlfriend gets pregnant, she be in the system with the rest of them. All of which seems entirely lost on the man in question.

This doesn't prove anything, of course, but I suspect that there are thousands more just like that. They're protesting, not because the health care reform will actually hurt them, or the economy, or anything else, but just to be protesting - their lack of continued dominance over society, perhaps. Or simple racism, sexism, obsession with traditional family values. Something.

I'm not sure what, exactly (general fear - probably). But it's very strange, and rather frightening.

(Crossposted at Constant Thoughts)

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ain't Nuthin' But A She Thing

So I've been a bit overwhelmed with life and teaching and the long-time-coming conclusion of my graduate school career, so I've been a neglectful blogger (what else is new these days?).

As a peace offering, will you accept Salt-n-Pepa's "Ain't Nuthin' But A She Thing" music video? I've been revisiting the music of my childhood and have become a bit obsessed:

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Feminist Readings: 'Sexual Politics'

Kate Millett's Sexual Politics is one of those books people talk about a great deal but don't actually read. It's a feminist 'classic', we think - historically important but out-of-date and hopelessly stuck in the second wave. Of course, that means it's unfit for consumption in these more enlightened times.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Sexual Politics is inflammatory, but it's hardly the anti-male diatribe some (Camille Paglia, etc.) claim it is. It's well-written, enlightening, and completely relevant for the modern reader.

In fact, Sexual Politics contains the most reasoned, sensible critique of the traditional family I have even read. Even more, the sexual revolution - now much maligned - is shown for what it really is. Without sexual revolution, there can be no overthrow of the patriarchy, traditional gender roles, or anything else. The political is not merely personal, but irrevocably sexual as well.

While this concept alone makes the book well worth reading, the critique of Freud's views on women is also excellent. These views, of course, have been thoroughly debunked by modern psychology and are no longer considered current. Unfortunately, due to endless popularizations of his theories, he continues to be an enormous influence on popular thought about gender (and everything else). People still talk about penis envy, assume that women are naturally less sexual, and on and on.

Millett, rather than sticking with a formal psychological treatment of Freud, attempts to show that his conclusions about women were based entirely on preconceived cultural attitudes and personal failings. It succeeds completely. Now, I have no idea whether Millett's treatment of Freud makes any sense on psychological grounds, but it's the perfect antidote to popular attitudes about women's psychology, from 'that's what she said' jokes all the way up to bizarre notions of female frigidity as dispensed by advice columnists and talk show hosts.

The only 'flaw' to be found in Sexual Politics are the novel criticism sections that bookend the volume. I place 'flaw' in quotes because there's absolutely nothing wrong with the sections themselves. They're well-written, logical, not overly anti-male, but I had to question their purpose. Knowing that D.H. Lawrence is, well, a sexist asshole in the first degree doesn't really affect the political-sexual environment of the world. Plenty of novelists are sexist - but they're just novelists. (I understand that Millett intended them to be seen as reflections of the greater culture, not as cultural agents, but it still seems to be given too much importance)

I bring this up merely to say that Sexual Politics is far, far more than angry literary criticism. Don't be put off by the first chapter; read the whole thing. You won't be disappointed.

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mu Sochua

The NY Times just ran an article on Mu Sochua, a woman I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of before. She's a women's rights activist and political figure in Cambodia, and has accomplished a great deal over the last two decades, fighting against domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, child trafficking, and generally raising the profile of women's rights and gender issues in Cambodia.

Her work is limited, unfortunately, by - what else - politics.

The gist of the Times articles is that nobody, including other women in power, wants to have anything to do with Mu Sochua or her agenda, because she opposes the majority government. The majority, needless to say, has made little progress for women's rights, preferring to maintain the status quo. It seems the entire political culture of the country will have to be changed before any real progress is made.

And she's trying - taking on general interest issues, building a reputation for herself among the people. Perhaps someday, Mu Sochua will have the impact on Cambodia that she really ought to.

(Mu Sochua's Website)

(By the way - did anyone think that the title of the Times article was bizarre - "The Female Factor" - what's that supposed to be about?)

Read Full Post/Permalink...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sweet dreams are made of this...

We were talking about gender roles and performative acts of gender constitution (from Joan Riviere's "Womanliness as a Masquerade" to Judith Butler's Gender Trouble) in class last week, and I decided to show a clip from Jennie Livingston's amazing 1990 documentary, Paris is Burning. In the film, Livingston showcases the underground, urban gay/drag club scene which popularized voguing (and, yes, it's this club scene that inspired Madonna).

Anyway, searching out a good clip to show from Livingston's film reminded me of my favorite 80s band, The Eurythmics, and their 1982 MTV scandal. In an interview I heard a while back, lead singer Annie Lennox explained that the still-relatively-new MTV banned the band's music video (for the song "Love is a Stranger, below) because they couldn't tell whether Lennox was really a woman or a man dressed in drag. Apparently gender ambiguity was not cool with MTV back in the early 80s; they obviously got over that pretty quickly.

Reminiscing about The Eurythmics sent me on a whirlwind trip down memory lane, which I thought I'd share with you here. Here's one of their most bizarre (and, in my opinion, awesome) videos, for their 1987 song "Beethoven (I Love To Listen To)":

And, because it would be severely remiss for me not to post this, especially relevant, video, here's Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox singing their 1985 hit "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves":

Read Full Post/Permalink...