This Lady, Right Here

August 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

Remember this epic fail of an article from back in April, in which Newsweek posited that young voters, women in particular, are “lukewarm” on pro-choice politics and think abortion rights “don’t need defending”?

Ugh. If you’d forgotten, I’m sorry to bring it up.

The article relies heavily on commentary from Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. To be fair, there are not many direct quotes from her, but there are monumentally disheartening paragraphs like this:

NARAL president Nancy Keenan had grown fearful about the future of her movement even before the health-care debate. Keenan considers herself part of the “postmenopausal militia,” a generation of baby-boomer activists now well into their 50s who grew up in an era of backroom abortions and fought passionately for legalization. Today they still run the major abortion-rights groups, including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women.

Ahem. Emphasis on the “they still run.” Young women, and particularly young women of color, are systematically kept out of the boardroom and away from leadership positions in non-profit and advocacy groups. Latifa Lyles’ campaign for president of NOW is a perfect example of this. Notes from the campaign in June 2009:

Both contenders [Latifa Lyles and Terry O'Neill] expect the election to be close, and both are promoting themselves as best able to bolster NOW’s membership.

“We are not the strongest grass-roots movement we can be — we both agree on that,” Lyles said. “The question is how we deal with that.”

Noting that she contrasts with NOW’s mostly white and over-40 membership, Lyles said she could help give NOW a new image of youth and diversity that would appeal to younger feminists and reinvigorate the broader movement.

“The profile of NOW is just as important as the work we do,” she said. “There are a lot of antiquated notions about what feminism is.”

Lyles, a 33-year-old black vice president of the organization, was edged out by 56-year-old white activist Terry O’Neill, despite an enthusiastic endorsement by NOW’s then-president Kim Gandy. Qualified, passionate, well-recommended… but not elected. Clearly it’s not for lack of interest that young women aren’t running the pro-choice show.

Back to Keenan and NARAL.

These leaders will retire in a decade or so. And what worries Keenan is that she just doesn’t see a passion among the post-Roe generation — at least, not among those on her side.

THIS SHIT IS OUTRAGEOUS. MY PRO-CHOICE GIRLS GOT PASSION RUNNING OUT THEIR EARS. For me, the cherry on top is that I have been volunteering at NARAL Pro-Choice New York, the state affiliate of the national NARAL, for years.

I just don’t know what we have to do to be seen and heard. Online activism isn’t taken seriously, apparently — even though groups like NARAL certainly rely on blogs and social networking sites to get the word out. But it seems that the hundreds of hours of in-person volunteer work that this lady, right here has contributed — collecting petition signatures for the Reproductive Health Act, calling voters in support of pro-choice candidates, distributing condoms and information about emergency contraception, blah blah blah — aren’t taken seriously either.

Jessica Valenti was so fucking right on when she wrote of this debacle last summer:

Who do you think has been making your photocopies and volunteering and organizing for these big organizations all of these years?

The work of the mainstream pro-choice movement is built on younger women’s labor — unpaid and underpaid — who do the majority of the grunt work but who are rarely recognized. And I don’t know about you — but I’m sick of working so hard on behalf of a movement that continues to insist that we don’t exist.

Where would NARAL Pro-Choice America or NOW be without the work done by younger women?

Who would do their outreach? Who would volunteer? Who would take unpaid internships? Who would carry their action items on blogs and forward them by email, Facebook and Twitter? Who would Blog for Choice?

Seriously, what would happen if young women decided they had enough of being ignored and started simply decided to stop working for these organizations? Even if for a month young women boycotted the organizations that refuse to acknowledge their hard work — the movement would fall on its ass.

And there’s the rub — young women don’t want to forsake this movement. We don’t want to let it crumble to the side of the road, because control over our own bodies is infinitely more important than “postmenopausal militia” doubt about our commitment. Dropping out of the race is counterproductive. We’re still running, we’re still working damn fucking hard, no matter what any president says.

Check out all the other entries in the THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE blog carnival over at Fair and Feminist.

Edited for clarity on August 27.

Pregnant Teens Get Clothes, Moral Panic Ensues

August 3, 2010 § 12 Comments

by KATIE E.

Dear Stephanie Hallett,

Just stop. Really.

Stop the moral panic. Stop calling yourself a feminist unless you decide you want to support all women.  And please, stop promoting the epic fallacy that if we don’t provide maternity clothes at a store aimed at women under thirty, pregnant teenagers will suddenly disappear.

“How about information on pregnancy options, counselling and pre- and post-natal care? Not trendy clothes.”

You know, that’s lovely and all, and I really do support it, but I believe pregnant people are still required by law to be clothed during all that counselling and prenatal care.

And somehow, I don’t think that F21 selling (I kid you not, this is the entire “line”) two modest dresses, two plain shirts, two gray cardigans, two pairs of neutral leggings, one of those belly supporters, and a chiffon thing that I don’t quite understand but is floral and quite unexciting in maternity sizes is going to suddenly end all help for pregnant people who want/need it. And, even in my capacity as a non-fashionista, I’d hardly call that “trendy.” Nice looking, affordable, okay for some jobs and parties, but pretty bland for F21. With the way she phrases it, I was expecting bubble mini-dresses with I AM THE COOLEST PREGNANT TEENAGER EVER emblazoned on the front in rhinestones or something. Not that there would be anything wrong with that, but it sounds much more like something of the traditional F21 cannon.

Furthermore, why shouldn’t pregnant teenagers have trendy clothes? If you are pregnant before society says it’s okay, does that mean you should feel too much shame to dress the way you like?

“Linda Chang, Forever 21′s senior marketing manager, can claim they’re simply trying to appeal to a new demographic, and not exploiting the outrageously high number of teen moms with little money in the U.S., but the point is that a 20-something model in maternity clothes isn’t even shocking anymore. It’s an integral part of the “raw-capitalism-as-spectacle-a-go-go” model that F21 has founded its business on. It doesn’t matter who’s shopping, only that they’re buying.”

I get that Forever 21 is infamous for the whole “fast fashion” phenomenon, but the whole “raw-capitalism-as-spectacle-a-go-go” you’re describing here just sounds a lot like…capitalism. I’m no fan, but the idea of discovering you have a market (young women who’ve always loved fast and cheap clothes who coincidentally become pregnant) and making a product that will appeal to that market (fast, cheap maternity clothes) is hundreds of years old

And exploitive? Really? Please go talk to one of the millions of pregnant people who couldn’t afford maternity clothes  and as them if a twelve dollar, slightly less than flawless quality dress makes them feel exploited. Frankly, only someone from a place of privilege could believe pregnant people are exploited by cheap maternity clothes.

Why should a 20-something model in maternity clothes be a shock, anyway? The average age of a first time mom is now 25, and it’s only gone up in the past forty years. Besides, I thought you only wanted to shame pregnant teenagers here. Is it just the phenomenon of pregnancy in general that makes you so mad?

“But as a company whose audience is made up mostly of girls under 24, Forever 21 has the option to behave responsibly and not perpetuate a very destructive norm.”

Is the fact that most (65%) of F21′s customers are under the age of 24 supposed to make me panic or something? This may shock you, but 18-23-year-olds are women. Adult women. And 65%, while a definite majority, is not a radically high figure.

Not that any of that should matter. I would think that a feminist would recognize how extremely problematic referring to anyone who’s pregnant as “a destructive norm” is. Isn’t it Anti-Kyriarchy 101 that there is nothing wrong with anyone who is keeping a pregnancy, and any problems that arise from it are the fault of our racist, sizeist, ageist, sexist, cissexist, classist, heterosexist society?

“How about we offer proper sex ed to American youth?”

Excellent idea, but I fail to see how this will completely erase pregnant people and the need for them to have proper clothes.

“How about we talk about what it’s really like to be a mom–the money it takes, the time it takes, the effects on a young woman’s body–instead of making teen pregnancy a mere fact of life in the US with shows like 16 and Pregnant?”

Here we go with the “pregnant teenagers are silly and don’t know that babies cost money and can change your body!” meme. I happen to know that Women’s Glib, being Women’s Glib, has a high readership of people who are currently teenagers, so I’ll invite all of them to answer this question:

You know being pregnant costs money and time and changes your body, right?

It wouldn’t be a classic teen pregnancy shame fest without a reference to 16 and Pregnant. Really, how many people do you know who watch 16 and Pregnant who have not done all of the following:

1. Called any of the girls “slutty” or something similar.

2.  Doubted the girl’s intelligence.

3. Referred to the couple that gave the baby up for adoption as being the only one’s who were smart, responsible, and/or mature.

4. Insisted that it is a great way to prevent teenaged girls from having sex and keeping pregnancies.

16 and Pregnant is hardly “acceptance” or “normalization” of teenaged pregnancy.

As much as it clearly pains you, Ms. Hallett, teen pregnancy is a mere fact of life, and it always has been and always will be. Some teens use contraception and it fails. Some teens can’t afford contraception. Some don’t know how to use it. Some are raped. Some are victimized be reproductive coercion. Some plan pregnancies. Many will choose or be forced into carrying the pregnancy to full-term. All deserve our respect and support. And that includes affordable, nice clothes that they can wear.

Ms. Hallett, what you’ve written here is one of the major reasons why mainstream feminism frequently disappoints me. A feminist should support all women and girls, but I see less and less realizing how much our society fails pregnant people and mothers who don’t fit the kyriarchal norm. Pregnant teens and teenaged parents are not a tragedy or destructive, but society (including you) is set on continuing to perpetuate conditions and ideas that make it seem that way.

No, You Don’t Have A Right

July 27, 2010 § 10 Comments

by KATIE E.

…to child-free spaces.

I’m afraid it’s true. You don’t have a right to demand a public space without kids anymore than I have a right to demand a public space without women. Or people of color. Or trans* people. Or…anyone. I would think that as social justice minded individuals we would collectively realize how seriously screwed up the notion that we can exclude a group of people from the public sphere is.

You know what else you don’t have a right to? You don’t have a right to demand parents to “control” children in public, as if they are animals or objects. You don’t get to police parenting techniques, and you don’t get to demand that kids don’t demonstrate age-appropriate behavior.

If you are going to call out misogynists, racists, ableists, trans/fat/lesbo/bi/homophobes or anyone else contributing to the kyriarchy, but you are completely open about the fact that you just hate children, you are a hypocrite.

Also, Jezebel? I have HUGE problems with your site, particularly the way you brand feminism, but now you’ve officially lost a reader. It features what I’ve often heard called the “oppression olympics” (Racism and sexism are much worse than child-hate!), and polices a woman’s choice not to call herself a feminist, which, if you read the feministe comment thread, she clearly has good reasons for.

The Jezebel thread is even worse, and includes very thinly veiled racist attacks on mai’a. (Making fun of her daughter’s name and the like.)

If Mai’a or anyone else who agrees with her is reading this, good for you and I’m so sorry you have to deal with all of these horrible comments. If you’re one of the other “feminists” I saw exhibiting ageist, child-hating behavior, you’ve made me pretty ashamed to be a feminist and normal fan of feministe today.

Things You Should Read on This:

My Child Take Up Space

Being anti-children isn’t really helping anything, you know.

Quick Hit: DREAM Act 21

July 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

by SILVIA

via Citizen Orange

On Tuesday, July 20th twenty-one undocumented youth were arrested while staging sit-ins in Washington, D.C. I can’t believe there hasn’t been more coverage of these 21 brave individuals. But then again, there has barely been any coverage on the DREAM Act itself. In case you haven’t heard, the DREAM Act is a bi-partisan legislative effort to provide “qualifying undocumented youth” a path to citizenship by completing either two years of college or two years of military service. For more information on the DREAM Act and to find out whether you qualify, visit the DREAM Act portal.

(Photo from Citizen Orange)

DREAM Act 21 on Capitol Hill

No, You Can’t “Slip” Fitness Into My Life

July 19, 2010 § 5 Comments

by KATIE E.

I was really disturbed to find this article on skirt.com, a website claiming to be pro-woman. The article, titled “5 Ways To Slip Fitness Into Your Daughter’s Life,” claims to be easy ways to encourage a pre-teen or teenage daughter to exercise, but it simply promotes the concept of a parent controlling all aspects of their child’s life. Not to mention the fact that it manages to be sexist, ageist, classist, ableist, and sizeist all in one short article.

The author states in her opening paragraph: “Startling new research has revealed that our kids are spending about eight hours a day in front of electronic devices like computers, TVs and cell phones. This most certainly is contributing to the 17 percent obesity rate for kids in the U.S.”

First of all, she perpetuates the idea that obesity always equals unhealthy, which, I’m sure you’re aware, is false and hateful. That needs to stop, especially in reference to children, as their self-image and self-esteem are often very fragile and still developing. Plenty of heavy children are healthy, and many skinny ones are not.

What really stood out to me, though, was the fact that while she talked about how kids don’t exercise and kids are obese, the article only focuses on females. To me, this seems like a subtle way of promoting the idea that women always need to work to stay skinny and sexy for men. I can also see it promoting the idea that daughters are property that you can do whatever you want with. Male children are not immune to this, of course, but things like purity balls/rings, parental consent for abortion laws, etc., show that females are generally worse off in this department.

The article doesn’t get much better from here. To take it point by point:

1. “Walk the talk.” Require that she pace or walk round the house for at least one hour of her phone or texting time. This can burn almost a calorie a minute.

Sounds nice. Unless you don’t have enough class privilege to afford a cell phone or have an hour of spare time between school and work. Or if your daughter is disabled. Or if *gasp* you have one of those teenage girls who actually has interests outside of texting, like we aren’t all stereotypes!

2. Replace her computer chair with a simple balance ball. It builds core strength and improves posture.

Because stealing the personal property of your children is totally different than stealing that of an adult! Again, note the classism-not everyone can afford a computer or a new balance ball-and the ageist stereotypes-teenage girls spend all their time on the computer.

3. “Plant” items in the TV room, like a mini trampoline, Bosu or hippity hop/balance ball – and require that kids use one of the items for an hour of their TV time. One hour can burn around 150 more calories than sitting.

Do I even need to say it? Classism, ableism, and ageism, right there.

4. Harness her inner entertainer and let her play “So You Wanna Be A Rock Star?” with her friends. She can make her own rock video by picking one by a favorite musician for inspiration and reenacting it. An hour of dancing and singing burns 123 calories.

Because micromanaging what your daughter does with her friends is so normal! And boys never want to be pop stars!

5. Let her give you a “halftime show.” Every time a commercial comes on TV, press the mute button and ask her to give you a floor show. She can sing, dance or act out what just happened in the show she was watching.

Translation: All teenage girls are out-going egoists and aspiring performing artists who love to have all eyes on them. They would never consider being forced to “perform” degrading or humiliating. Also, maybe I’m just reading too much into this, but does anyone else get the creeps reading “give you a floor show?” With the constant objectification of women in society, when I here “give you a show” I automatically think of a sexual performance of some kind. That could just be me, though.

Overall, I find the concept of forcing a daughter to exercise, especially through these ways, to be intrusive, and, as I stated before, promoting the idea of women and children as property. Girls and young women might actually have a good reason for not exercising, and they are capable enough to figure that out on their own. The daughter in question may have an invisible disability the parents don’t know about or fully understand, be too tired from work/school to exercise, or may simply not enjoy traditional exercise. It should be her decision, not something for parents to invade and change.

Gentlemen…Err…Ladies and Gentlemen…Err…Drivers, Start Your Engines!

July 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

This is a guest post by Julia Landauer, a competitive racecar driver.

Image: Julia, wearing a racing suit, sits in front of a red racecar with a helmet on the ground beside her.

If you were to ask the average person on the street what they think of when they hear the words “woman” and “racecar,” many would first think of umbrella girls, and then: “That chick that races, what’s her name? Danica Patrick.” Though this might seem like a gross generalization, I’ve found it to be the case. My name is Julia Landauer and I’m a professional racecar driver. I am a NASCAR-licensed stock car driver, racing late models in Virginia. And I am a Stuyvesant High School graduate, raised in Manhattan, headed to Stanford in the fall. I am not what you think of when you hear “woman” and “racecar.”

I have been a woman in a man’s world since I started go-karting when I was ten. The funny thing is that I never saw myself as “the girl racer” – instead, I saw myself as just another racer. That is, until I was around fourteen, when I became the youngest female winner in the Skip Barber Series, and later that year I became the first female champion of the series. It was than I realized that I was getting publicity not because I was a racer that won, but because I was a girl that won. And such a title is like a double-edged sword. On one hand, I get more immediate attention because of my gender. On the other hand, I have to fight rampant biases against women. “Women can’t drive.” “Women aren’t athletic.” “Women should be nice.” Well, let me tell you something, you can’t be nice on track and expect to win.

Image: Julia signing autographs.

By the time I was fifteen I had established myself as a championship-winning racer, both in karts and in cars. But that didn’t mean people weren’t still seeing me as “the girl racer.” At a national go-kart race in Pennsylvania, a fellow racer who is a year younger than me was a little over-aggressive, so I returned the favor. He and his dad were both furious, but in reality I just returned the bump, and that’s how everyone except those two saw it. His dad later said to me, “You know, no one’s going to want to be your friend if you bump people like that,” in a condescending tone fit to address a five year-old. I laughed in surprise and responded, “Well, I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win races.” The answer surprised him, but I think I made my point.

That being said, being a woman does gives me a better chance of being successful. There are lots of male racecar drivers, but only so many female ones, and NASCAR is looking for their first successful female. I know this and other people know this, so I have to use my femininity as a tool. (But I will steer clear of the ever-assumed sleeping-with-the-team-owner-for-a-ride plan. I’d rather earn my ride.)

I don’t like that people always focus on the differences between men and women, especially in racing. Heck, if the names weren’t on the cars, you’d never be able to tell if the racer inside was male or female. At the end of the day, I just see myself as another racer, gender aside. There was an article recently in The Atlantic called The End of Men, talking about how in many fields, women are actually surpassing men with their achievements. This was interesting to read because it still is sexist, just this time in favor of females. I see no reason why women and men should be treated or rewarded differently, but for some reason, they are.

I would love to see the day when there are as many females in the field of racing as there are males. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll see that day. My greatest wish for my sport is for competitors and audiences to disregard the gender of the racer, and acknowledge the talent of the driver. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen any time soon either. Until then, I’ll continue developing my tough skin, and charge to the front because I am a champion, not because I am a female.

4th of July Feel Good

July 4, 2010 § 3 Comments

Good news! (Notice that I’m so overjoyed I had to add a new category — “This Makes Me Happy.”) At Hudson High School in upstate New York, two senior boys were crowned prom king and queen.

Amazing. In the same year that Constance McMillen was sent to a fake prom and had to take legal action to defend her rights, something like this happens. Obviously this doesn’t negate all the fucked up shit that has happened and continues to happen to LGBTQ teens across America, but it’s certainly refreshing.

So I say congratulations to Charlie Ferrusi and Timmy Howard. And I hope you had a great time at the Most Important and Magical Night of Your Teenage Life (as the awesome Jamie at The Seventeen Magazine Project has coined it).

What do high school students know about sexual health?

April 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

This video, made by Sasha (a good friend of the blog) and featuring many of my friends and classmates, explores that question. I’m terrible at embedding, but please go watch it. Like Amanda’s impromptu birth control quizzes, these conversations are eye-opening.

Fun (read: terrifying) fact: public schools in New York City have no mandated sex education. Yikes.

Scarlet Magazine

April 6, 2010 § 1 Comment

Y’all, hurry up and check out the website for the amazing Scarlet Magazine. It’s a student publication produced out of Poughkeepsie Day School, an hour north of New York City. (I confess, I know someone involved with the project, but I feel comfortable saying that it is objectively awesome.)

On the site, you can familiarize yourself with the students involved, get to know their mission, read their blog, and peruse all three editions of their zine. As if you needed more incentive to get over there: they interviewed Sarah Haskins in their latest publication!

Intersectionality Snowday: A Feminist Teacher Revolution!

February 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

Two years ago when Miranda and I started a feminism club at our liberal high school in Chelsea, we had chosen a faculty advisor, our global history teacher who openly incorporated feminism into the curriculum. Then, we walked into our English class and our teacher came up and asked us if she could be our advisor too! We celebrated the beauty of two awesome feminists, one who teaches of a patriarchal world with a critical eye and the other who teaches loquacious poetry written by unheard women. It is true that both teachers were in the humanities and it would be awesome to find some feminist science teachers to round out our school, but the point is that we had educators vying to teach feminism and we know that’s a rarity.

Too often, academic feminism is restricted to the college classroom. In Girldrive, Nona Willis Aronowitz articulates her well-deserved skepticism,

We realize its power, but we’ve also noticed how academic feminism alienates young women from concepts they would otherwise be down with…. All we want is conversation and if academic feminism really has become so removed from personal experience that it’s caused emotional paralysis, then we are determined to change that.

Here’s the thing: academic feminism can get so wrapped up in theories and generalizations that it gets disconnected from reality. That reality is that women and men experience sexism conditionally, based on all the intersections of their lives – their personal lives. The academic must be personal in order get young women and young men down with concepts they can relate to. And for the academic to be personal, intersectionality must be acknowledged, celebrated, and taught in the mainstream. And that’s especially hard when there’s such a clear socioeconomic gap between women’s studies curricula at various universities.

Next year, I plan to attend super-liberal and well-to-do Wesleyan University. Currently, Wesleyan offers 19 women’s studies courses and offers a major in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. And they better offer this many courses, seeing as Wesleyan costs $54,000 a year. I was also considering SUNY Geneseo, a public small liberal arts college with roughly the same number of students as Wesleyan, though it costs $48,000 less. SUNY Geneseo currently offers only three women’s studies courses. Unfortunately, there is a direct correlation between the escalating tuition of higher education and the number of women’s studies classes offered.

This is a problem. A dramatic disparity between the number of women’s studies courses offered at private versus public institutions means that only a certain part of the population is being educated on feminism. And let’s face it – those who go Wesleyan are already pretty knowledgeable on feminism whereas those who attend public universities come from a much wider range of backgrounds and need this education the most. Sure, it’s easy to celebrate intersectionality at a university that is known for being politically correct, but what about in a university that actually has a ton of students from backgrounds that provide the means for intersectional discussions? Shouldn’t that university offer courses devoted to such conversation?

I propose a solution. Academic feminism, as confined to the campus bubble, is nice and safe. It’s hard to pinpoint patriarchy as it affects us on a personal level when we sit in a classroom with around twenty women and one man in a college that is made up of mostly women in a town so crummy that quads have become the most immediate society we interact with. Of course Nona’s critique of the removal of academic feminism from personal experience occurs. There is little personal experience to draw from in such a setting. That is why feminism must be taught before the university bubble is blown, way before it is to be popped a few years down the road, academic feminism potentially leaving its students defenseless in the real world of personal experience.

Feminism must be taught in K-12 classrooms. And not just in yuppie high schools in Chelsea. Feminism must be taught in inner-city schools where students have personal experiences with domestic violence and rape. Feminism must be taught in Catholic schools where girls are taught to be chaste and purity rings are celebrated. Feminism must be taught in Jewish Day Schools where the religious classes are taught almost exclusively in a male lexicon. Feminism must be taught in all schools where, to quote the blog Equality 101, “history courses continue to obliterate women who have made marks on society and culture.”

To teach feminism in the classroom not only gets more students to identify as feminists, but it broadens the spectrum of whom a feminist is. When a feminist can be a kindergarten student who is genuinely pissed off that her arithmetic talents aren’t being as valued as that of her male peers, we are making progress. In the K-12 classroom, the academic is inherently personal. Us high school students deal with sexism daily – at home, work, school, extra-curriculars, the books we read, with friends…just fill in the blank. We need a feminist teacher revolution to incorporate equality into the curriculum. Why is this basic concept, one that promotes inclusion of personal experience, so revolutionary when it comes to the classroom, the youth that represent our future?

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