Humiliating girlhood

September 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

by MIRANDA

So, there’s a bit of a tradition of veteran MLB relief pitchers making their rookie counterparts do embarrassing and unpleasant things. The NYTimes reports the latest update: “A hazing ritual that has gone on for years seems to have reached a new level of absurdity at major league ballparks: rookie relievers are being forced to wear schoolgirl backpacks — gaudy in color, utterly unmanly — to transport gear.”

“Unmanly”! “Painful”! “Torment”! “Flamboyant”! “Amusing”! “Humiliating”! And — take a deep breath — “pink”!

They’ve spelled it out for me: there’s nothing more humiliating than being a girl. It’s a trope that’s entirely undisguised, and actually entirely unoriginal.

I’M SICK OF IT.

There is a bit of girl inside everyone. Regardless of your age or gender, she’s there. She’s the part of you that’s strong, feisty, vulnerable, compassionate, and resilient. She might be at the surface but more often she’s been repressed — like a voice silenced, like tears held in. Take a page from Eve Ensler’s book and EMBRACE YOUR INNER GIRL. If we’ve all been told to suppress her, imagine the vast power she might wield if released. She’s anything but a humiliation.

Review: Undecided

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career — and Life — That’s Right for You by Barbara Kelley & Shannon Kelley

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Mom-and-daughter pair Barbara and Shannon Kelley have a gem here — an important read for basically any shrewd woman of my generation. It’s a relentlessly chatty book but it dives right to the core of women’s “analysis paralysis,” wisely eschewing self-help rhetoric in favor of a more rigorous cultural investigation of the professional challenges that plague today’s young women. The Kelleys thoroughly map the complex web of expectations, both social and internal, that push women to agonize over each and every life decision, and to grieve excessively for the loss of the option given up.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that I feel right at home in discussions of the laundry list of institutional forces that manipulate women’s professional choices. But what shook me up about this book was its insightful analysis of the ways in which we paralyze and punish ourselves. By ascribing so much meaning to our decisions large and small, meaningful and inconsequential, we lock ourselves into a cycle of yearning and remorse. And in our haste to take advantage of our newly afforded privileges in academia and in the professional world, it’s all too easy to sacrifice authentic decision-making in favor of other people’s estimations of what we are — or aren’t — capable of. (Me becoming an engineer just to disprove sexist stereotypes doesn’t mean shit in the big picture if I’m not truly invested. It’s just another way of conforming, of basing my decisions on patriarchal frameworks.)

It’s steadily depressing fare, but the Kelleys rescue the reader by concluding with advice to pursue “work worth doing” — work at the intersection of pleasure and meaning — and a spirited vision of what a feminized professional landscape might look like: one in which women and men are given social permission to implement leadership styles that emphasize collaboration, relationships, emotional connection. It’s a meaningful read.

Bits & Pieces

July 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

by MIRANDA

I have woefully fallen off the blogging deep end; my last post was almost two months ago. But my life’s been pretty awesome and fulfilling in the meantime, so I won’t regret briefly saying no to blogging. I’m easing back in with this roundup of bits and pieces.

The Fresh Air Fund, an amazing organization of which I am particularly enamored, is seeking host families all across the Northeast for this summer’s group of kids. Read all about their mission and the details of their need, and pass it along!

Planned Parenthood of NYC has created an interactive online sex education comic strip. From their press release:

The strip was written by former teen peer educators, and follows a few teenagers through their daily lives as they face tough choices about sex, health care, and life decisions.

“Teaching teens how to make good, healthy decisions is a constant struggle,” said Haydee Morales, Vice President of Education and Training at PPNYC. “This comic strip, written for teens by teens, should help reach young people in a way that facts and statistics can’t.”

Talia, who writes at Star of Davida, is hosting a feminist essay contest; submissions are due in October.

Review: Hey, Shorty!

May 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Hey, Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence In Schools and On The Streets by Joanne N. Smith, Mandy Van Deven, and Meghan Huppuch of Girls for Gender Equity

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As a guide, Hey, Shorty! gets its proportions just right. The book fluidly combines instruction and imagination, realistic activist advice and idealistic social justice zeal. Smith, Van Deven, and Huppuch, of the remarkable organization Girls for Gender Equity, are admirably and skillfully tackling the issue of gender-based violence against youth, particularly in public schools. This is a rampant problem, one is that far too often dismissed, and one that sits at the nexus of so many social justice concerns — self-efficacy, empowerment, education, health, poverty…

I loved the rhetoric of refusal that the book offers; here is a generation of women who are refusing retrograde gender norms and refusing to buy in to a system predicated on complacency, silence, and shame. And beyond all this refusal there’s an overwhelming sense of affirmation: so many girls have found a sense of belonging and purpose through projects like this one.

GGE will celebrate its tenth anniversary this September. The work of their staff and supporters is certainly impressive, but what most inspired me while reading this book were the voices of the young women who work with GGE through initiatives like Sisters in Strength. I’ll end with their thoughts:

“School is not just a place to gain knowledge but also a place where students can easily be affected by sexual harassment. What a disgrace. How can we progress in our schoolwork if we are impacted and distracted by sexual harassment?” — Cyndi, youth organizer

“I had just given birth to my daughter, who is now three years old, and Sisters in Strength gave me the courage to let everyone know that I stand for something, that I’m not just some statistic. I learned that I am a smart and beautiful young woman who doesn’t have to let having a child end my life. Life goes on and I am going on too. I am a fighter who will succeed and become a great member of society. I have a lot more confidence than I had before this experience.” — Jazmine, youth organizer

Women’s Glib is part of the Hey, Shorty! Virtual Book Tour. Check out this link to see other Tour stops and spaces that are supporting this project and find out how you are able to support it too!

Six Questions About Rebecca Black’s “Friday”

March 21, 2011 § 3 Comments

by MIRANDA


I. What are the precise mechanics of a YouTube video “going viral”?
Black’s video was originally posted on February 10, but started garnering a significant number of hits about a month later on Friday March 11. A friend showed it to me in person on Tuesday March 15; over the next few days it spread quickly among my classmates, and many of Friday March 18′s Facebook status updates were devoted to parodies and references to the song. As I write this the official YouTube video has more than 30 million views.

II. Who is Rebecca Black?
She seems earnest and sweet; she apparently plans to donate much of her iTunes sales profits to “school arts programs and relief efforts in Japan.” How did she get involved with Ark Music Factory

III. Who wrote the song? (It wasn’t Black.) And who auto-tuned the shit out of it? Because: HA. Kudos on your career. To be honest, I completely agree with Rolling Stone’s assessment that the song is “an unintentional parody of modern pop.” And I’d love to hear more from the true creator of said unintentional parody.

IV. What’s up with Ark Music Factory?
I couldn’t find much definitive information about the label’s business model or how one becomes associated with it; all I know for sure right now is that their website’s child-porn aesthetic gives me the creeps.

V. Why are we so culturally infatuated with improbable images of young teen girls partying?
It seems that society is only interested in girls when we’re appearing carefree and having capital-F Fun. Alarmingly few people are interested in struggle or unsureness or complex emotion. Which is unfortunate, because to my knowledge that’s exactly the register in which women operate from the ages of ten to twenty (or ten to forever?).

VI. What’s behind the onslaught of hatred towards Rebecca Black?
It is now a well-established fact that “Friday” is not good. You are not contributing something new to the discourse by saying the song sucks. Offering criticism of Black’s creative work is fine; anyone who puts a piece of writing or song or video or whatever out into the world should expect as much in response. What’s disturbing is the criticism that’s been leveled at Rebecca Black as a person. Her situation is emblematic of a phenomenon faced by many female pop stars, in which consumers use “critique” of an artist’s work to not-so-subtly critique her. (For guys, quite the opposite. Even Chris Brown’s undisputed real-life actions didn’t yield substantial public criticism of his personality or moral code.)


Asked by ABC’s Andrea Canning about the meanest response to her video that she’s read, Black says: “I hope you cut yourself and I hope you get an eating disorder so you’ll look pretty, and I hope you go cut and die.” These words have nothing to do with “Friday” — and actually, they probably have nothing to do with Rebecca Black. These words are about the vitriolic hostility that women are routinely and reflexively shown whenever they step foot into the media’s public arena. I’ve seen the video over and over, and I’m left wondering: Why is our culture simultaneously so obsessed with this video and so seemingly angered by it? I guess the real question is, why are we so hungry for media from women we can hate?

Young Americans…have sex?!?!!

March 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

by MIRANDA

Students at Wesleyan created this flippin’ fantastic video in response to the attacks on Planned Parenthood. Watch!

We are all born superstars

February 19, 2011 § 3 Comments

by MIRANDA

No matter what anyone says, no matter the valid criticisms of the problematic aspects of her persona and her music, at the end of the day, this is why I love Lady Gaga. This, right here:

Indeed: Just love yourself and you’re set.

Emergency contraception and the FDA

February 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

by MIRANDA

I’ve written quite a lot about emergency contraception, and in particular about the shady age restrictions that dictate who can and can’t buy it over the counter.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has an excellent recap:

The Center sued the FDA in 2005 for failing to grant over-the-counter status to emergency contraception (a.k.a Plan B) against the advice of its scientific experts and in violation of its own procedures and regulations. In 2006, the FDA agreed to make Plan B available without a prescription, but only to women 18 and over and only behind the pharmacy counter.

Plan B is now available over-the-counter for anyone age 17 or over, but remains inaccessible to those under 17 even though “medical and scientific consensus provides no rationale for age restrictions on Plan B.”

Today, emergency contraception is available without a prescription, but only for women age 17 and older. Pharmacies and clinics must keep it behind the counter and anyone seeking to buy it must show government issued identification proving their age in order to buy it without a prescription.
These intrusive restrictions, unprecedented for drugs with over-the-counter status, make it harder and more stigmatizing for consumers to get the contraception during its most effective window.

These restrictions are undeniably motivated by political and social pressures that seek to legislate sexuality. (I’ll quote myself: “It’s more than obvious that the conservative movement to restrict access is not about the health and safety of teenage women, but about legislating who is and isn’t allowed to have sex.”) Never mind that the political leaders who restrict Plan B access, which prevents conception after unprotected sex, are the same people who restrict abortion access — abortion being what women might logically turn to when faced with an unplanned pregnancy that using Plan B might have prevented in the first place.

But this morning brought some good news:

Moments ago, Teva, the manufacturer of the emergency contraceptive (EC) Plan B, announced that it filed an application with the FDA requesting that EC be available over-the-counter without a prescription for women of all ages.

While it’s phenomenal that Teva has put this pressure on the FDA, their request will only affect restrictions on their specific emergency contraception product. In an email, the Center for Reproductive Rights emphasized: “We want the FDA to know that it is still required to obey the law and end all restrictions once and for all –- not on a piece meal basis.”

They have a petition to pressure Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the FDA Commissioner of Food and Drugs, to end senseless age restrictions on all forms of emergency contraception. Please sign here.

Profiles In Terrible Sex Education Part 3: In Which An 8th Grader is Awesome

January 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

by ELENA

If I had a hat, I would tip it to Ms. Ellie Grossman, who after sitting through “Willing to Wait’s” program, spoke to the Wyoming Public Schools Reproductive Health Committee, and succeeded in changing the schools programming. WPS now uses the “Safer Choices” program, which was developed by the Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan.

I would also tip my (imaginary) hat to the Wyoming Public Schools, and the Plymouth UCC for recognizing the value of students’ opinions and input. It would have been much easier for the leaders in the school district and the church, in a more conservative community, to say, “Well if we change the programming, we’re going to upset a lot of parents / It’s only one kid complaining / 8th graders shouldn’t know about condoms and birth control / etc.” But they didn’t. They realized that they were doing a disservice to their students by using a program that did not answer their very legitimate questions.

It’s also great that a church is hosting one of the “Safer Choices” sessions. It is very important for religious leaders who are for comprehensive sex ed to speak out in their communities, and show that being religious does not mean having a narrow view of human sexuality.

Profiles In Terrible Sex Education, Part 2: Well, Aren’t You Just a Pretty, Pretty Princess

December 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

This is Part 2 in a series of posts about the fail-tastic content on the website of a Grand Rapids MI based abstinence only program called Willing to Wait. You can find Part 1 here.

Tour the toy section of any store, and you’ll be smacked in the face by the good ‘ol gender binary. “Boy” toys include trucks, weapons, and action figures from films such as Star Wars, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. “Boy” toys, and the “Boy” section of Toys are decorated with the color blue, and many toys are blue, red, silver, and black. “Girl” toys are almost universally pink, primarily consist of dolls, doll accessories, and while some barbies adn bratz dolls are rock stars, many dolls personify one of the most aggravating tropes of all time: the Princess. Even toys such as toy tool kits, or those little electronic cars that my parents never let me have are somehow obligated to be as pink and princess-tastic as possible.

When I was 3 years old, and asked my parents for my first toy, a Tonka dump truck. They bought me one. My grandmother was evidently freaked out by my enthusiasm for digging up chunks of the driveway and dumping them on the lawn, not because I was causing landscapig related havoc, but because me playing with a truck would make me a “poorly adjusted” adult. She insisted on buying me a doll. I think I took the doll for rides on the Tonka Truck. I turned out just fine, thank you.

This weird obsession with turning girls into princesses speaks to how our society frequently undervalues girls. Politically speaking, a princess has very little political power. The most dangerous period in Elizabeth I’s life was when she was Princess Elizabeth: She was treated with a great deal of suspicion by the court, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Diana Spencer was considered a good match for Prince Charles strictly on the fact that a. she was a virgin, and b. she came from an aristocratic family. Whether or not Diana and Charles were a good match was not part of the equation. Kate Middleton, Prince William’s fiancee has a degree in Art History, has had jobs as an accessories designer and retail buyer, aspires to be a professional photographer, but the main thing that British and American news media focus on is OMG SHES MARRYING PRINCE WILLIAM! WHAT’S HER WORKOUT LIKE?

Okay, so real-life princesses face a lot of challenges, what’s the point?

One of the posts on the Willing To Wait website is “Ladies: Release your ‘Inner Princess’“. The author vaguely compares being abstinent until marriage to being a princess, who is “rescued’ by her prince. The photo accompanying this piece says more about the gender binary (girls are princess, who wear a lot of pink. They must be rescued by boys, who are princes) than I could possibly type:

The text isn’t all that better:

I wonder if most little girls pretend they are princesses at some point in their childhood. Something inside us longs to be special and beautiful. We long for an honorable champion to fight for us.

Actually, I didn’t pretend that I was a princess much. Besides dumping various sundry items with my Tonka Truck, I pretended that I was a Queen (and would bonk classmates on the head with my “scepter”, much to the consternation of the recess lady), that I was a leader of a roving band of orphans who had to scrounge from the city (aka refrigerator) to survive, that I was an explorer who discovered a magical new world, that I was Margaret Bourke-White, and would go around taking pictures of everything. I also didn’t really need some sort of prince figure to “save” me, though fellow queens/orphans/explorers/photographers were always welcome. I don’t know if I was born with some sort of “princess immunity”, or if my parent’s unwillingness to buy me lots of pink crap that I didn’t really want in the first place had an effect on my creative playacting as a child.

Is this just child’s play or does this resonate in our hearts as being more than that? Maybe we played like that because in our deepest emotions we want someone to see that we are worth fighting for.This deep-seated emotion does not go away as we grow up. We still want to know that we are of great value and are cherished. This is not to say that wanting to be treated like a princess is to be needy or helpless or a victim. No! Princesses are strong, and courageous too. We fight dragons, too, after all. I just think it means, for many of us, that we just don’t want to have these adventures of life alone…we would rather have a prince for a soul mate.

My child’s play was focused on having fun, and exploring my habitat. Not wondering why no prince was going to rescue me. Because, I could find very creative ways of rescuing my self. And while I do have my moments where I can get self-critical, I don’t need someone else to tell me that I am “of great value/cherished”. This piece isn’t just about abstinence, it was about reinforcing the gender binary, and reinforcing the belief that women need men to feel complete/protect their princess-like loveliness. This piece is implying that if we “kiss frogs” (ie, have sex with men), we will no longer be pretty, pretty princesses, and no “prince” will want to take care of us.

Please pardon me while I vomit in a pretty pink Dixie Cup.

When I spent a summer volunteering at a weeklong musical theatre camp hosted by a Baptist church, I had to endure some truly nauseating “morning devotionals” about different women in the bible. The main theme was that the young girls hearing the devotional should be “Princesses For Christ” The most ironic lesson was the one about Ruth, and how she married Boaz because she was such a good clean vessel for God.

Here’s the thing:

In Ruth 3:4, Naomi tells Ruth to  uncover Boaz’s feet. “Feet” was a slang term for a man’s genitalia. So Ruth’s uncovering of Boaz’s feet, and her telling Boaz to “spread your cloak over me” is not nearly as innocuous as may interpret it. Ruth marries Boaz, and has a son, Obed. The main idea behind Ruth is that God loves and values strangers, and that Ruth’s devotion to her family is rewarded with a happy marriage and son*

I don’t want to be a princess. I want to be able to slay dragons on my own, because the last thing I want is wind up becoming dragon food because my prince didn’t save me in time. While relationships are enjoyable, having a boyfirend/finacee/husband isn’t something that will miraculously make me feel loved, valued, or compelte in life. And I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only young woman with little interest in the Princess Myth.

And finally, why doesn’t Willing to Wait have a post titled “Gentlemen: Release Your Inner Prince”. Evidently the organization does not believe in being an equal-opportunity oppressor.

*I’m not pulling this out of my ass, and the connotation behind “feet” comes form the book Don’t Know Much About The Bible, which is an excellent and informative read.

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