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30 January 2011

Discovering feminisms through blogs

A few weeks ago a new blog popped up in my referral logs and on my Google alert:

WS 299: Body Politics and Motherhood

It's a class at Oregon State University that has the students blogging about the feminisms they are discovering and encountering through blogs and feminist websites. Which, obviously, I think is freaking awesome.

While I know that there are some great text books on feminism and the different aspects/foci of feminists, it's hard to argue that the internet gives a great example of the diversity of thought within feminism. There are the academic labels - liberal feminism - but then there are the living and breathing labels that blogging feminists use on a daily basis.

I also love this blog because it gave me an insight into how a couple of college students think of Viva la Feminista:
I am actually pretty stoked on her reviews section where she suggests books for her readers. I hardly have time to read, but I'm always on the look out for new stuff that might be worth-while, especially about parenting (which she also has some suggested reads on). She is highly supportive of women's reproductive rights, and even asks that "in In lieu of cake, please donate to: Chicago Abortion Fund" for her birthday post. [link]
First of all, I love the name of this blog! 

After reading many reviews that she has done in the past I realized that Veronica is the type of person that we need more of in society. She is not afraid to state what she believes, speak the truth, and fight.

I love reading blogs, in fact I have a list of about five that I read everyday. I intend to add Viva La Feminista to my list. I can't wait to keep up with Veronica's busy life and see what her next post has to offer.[link]

And I'm not afraid to admit that since this class blog came into my life, I have revisited them just to read those words. Hey, I'm human and there have been some days where I think, "What am I doing?" I just go read those words and think, "Oh, yeah...That's what I'm doing!" Thanks to their professor for thinking of this idea! Thanks to the students who are discovering my kind of feminism. I hope I live up to your expectations! And if I don't, you'll let me know.

Others should check out the blog, even just to get a real glimpse into what college students think of feminism and feminism online. Especially students just discovering what feminism means to them. And remember, they are in class, let their blog be a safe space, so be nice.

23 January 2011

Book Review: Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

"How did you get through the princess stage?" That is in the top 5 questions I get asked by other moms, especially those I truly believe are turning to me as a feminist to guide them through the forest of pink.So it intrigued me to learn that even the famed Peggy Orenstein struggls with the princess phase.

Orenstein's book School Girls was pivotal in my growth as a young feminist. It detailed the trials of being a middle school girl with such genius that if she was a mom at my daughter's school, I would have totally turned to her for guidance.

So why is the princess phase such a challenge for moms today? If it's a phase, can't we just sit back and wait it out? In her new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, Orenstein reveals why this phase isn't as innocent as the glitter makes it appear.

Orenstein talks to the moms of her daughter's classmates to find that they also have rules about princesses in their homes. Only costumes - for imagination/play sake. No movies though. Yet the girls still know the plots and have their favorite princesses. She attends toys trade shows to talk to the toys peddlers themselves. "Pink is what girls want," is the official line. But how much choice do girls have in the first place if everyone buys into the "If it's not pink, it won't sell" line? Orenstein even gives us a quick historical view of how baby dolls became a girl toy -- let's say that the feminist movement seems older than the baby doll conspiracy.

As parents we are told to expect our girls to want to play with just girls and our boys to play with just boys after the age of about two or three. "It's natural," they say, "Watch." Orenstein talks with an expert who explains why allowing our kids to self-select into single-sex groups is not something to encourage. If we allow our kids to "naturally" only know how to play with the same sex at 4 and all the way up, how the hell do we expect them to communicate with each other as teens who are dating? Working together? Leading Student Council? We shouldn't. And the princess thing helps to divide our kids into BOY and GIRL buckets. Which is why experts say if you see the same sex play divide happen, force interaction.

Orenstein points out our hypocrisies, such as gasping in horror when we see young girls dancing to suggestive music, but not thinking twice when we take them to children's movies that include those songs. Are "not too skanky" dolls really worthy to be in our daughters' rooms? Do we really need to buy hundred dollar dolls so our girls can play with a doll that looks like a girl and not a college student?

At one point of the book, Orenstein reflects on the challenge of buying a gift for another girl. Not just a friend's daughter, but a princess-loving-pinkified girl. Oh, I know that feeling. You want to buy her something she'll love, but loathe the idea of buying something you would never buy your own daughter. And your feminist credentials are TOTALLY on the line too. If you select a bad toy, it will reflect on the whole community. This by the way, would make an excellent game show.

Orenstein doesn't get it all right. She misses the mark on 1990s feminism or "girlie feminism" by fusing the reclamation of feminine trades like sewing and knitting to women who feel that being sexy is empowering. They emerged at the same time, but are from two different camps. 

Early in the book Orenstein talks about the evolution of girlhood and how 2/3 of women today classified themselves as being tomboys as children. Yet only 1/3 of girls today would classify themselves as tomboys. This confuses her. Are women today over emphasizing their tomboy status? Rather I contend that tomboy is a label from the past. My daughter asked me what a tomboy was about a year ago. "Tomboy was a name people use to use for girls who were sporty, liked to climb trees because not a lot of girls did those things. Now we don't need to use it because so many girls are athletic." So if you asked my daughter, she might say she's not a tomboy. I even got her a shirt that said, "I'm not a tomboy, I'm an athlete." It's not a bad word to use, but I think it's a relic of  a time long gone, pre-Mia, pre-Williams sisters.

And that's where we are. In a world where girls can look up to Mia Hamm and the Williams sisters. They can go out every morning and practice their sport. Yet the media will still take time to evaluate who looked the best during the opening rounds of a Grand Slam tournament or ponder who is pregnant. That's the world our girls are growing up in and we not only need to figure our own way through this forest of pink princesses, but we need to guide them through it too.

Not only are our girls faced with being girly and sporty, but Orenstein takes a moment to link the academic pressure our children, girls and boys, are under. The pressure to be super academic early on can and often does alienate them from the joy of learning. Friends know that I fear this for my own smartypants daughter.

Orenstein offers few solid solutions, but what she does is walk herself through the challenges and asks us to come with her. She does answer the "How did we get here?" question in respect to dolls, clothes, sexiness and pink. There is also a MUST READ section on children's websites/social networks. While they may be safe from dirty old men, they are NOT safe from the pressure of commercialization. I know some of you poo-poo my anti-commercialization rants, but please, please, if you read this book, you will know why the intense commercialization our children are living in is robbing them of the childhood we experienced.

I hope it's not a surprise that I'm highly recommending this book. Seriously go get this book, read it and let's get back to raising our daughters instead of the marketers doing it.

Get a copy from an indie bookstore or Powells.com. Like now.

Disclaimer: I contacted the author in order to receive a copy of this book. I just had to have a sneak peek.

* Book links are affiliate links. If you buy your book here I could make a very small amount of money that goes towards this blog

20 January 2011

Tiffany Dufu is the new President of The White House Project

If you follow me on Flickr, you already knew this. I had no idea this information was embargoed until today. I swear! But hey, that's what happens when you invite people with digital cameras to an event, give them some awesome news and don't say "SHHHH!" Or maybe I was so freaking excited that Tiffany was going to be the next President of The White House Project that any shushing went over my head. Either way, CONGRATS TIFFANY!

Here's to passing of the baton. Thanks to Marie Wilson for her amazing years of leadership. I'm sure she won't be retiring to her porch, so let's keep an eye out for her next thing.

Again, congrats to Tiffany!

From the press release:

The White House Project...announces the appointment of its second President, Tiffany Dufu, on Inauguration Day, 2011.

“I can think of no better time to transfer the reins of power of The White House Project to the next generation than today, our country’s official Inauguration Day,” says Marie Wilson. “Tiffany is an extraordinary leader whose competence and passion for our mission will take the work to an entirely new level. For a founder, there is nothing more satisfying than leaving a loved institution in such worthy hands.”

Ms. Dufu has furthered her life’s work of advancing women and girls at The White House Project for the last four years, most recently as Vice President of Development and Administration. Over the course of her 15-year career she has raised nearly $20 million for nonprofits, forging new partnerships, support and strategies.

Says Tiffany Dufu, “The White House Project was founded to advance women’s leadership in all sectors of society, up to, and including, the U.S. presidency. As an African-American woman of the next generation, I believe that this transfer of leadership across generational and racial lines is emblematic of our country’s journey, and reflective of The White House Project’s mission and results. My vision for my administration is to harness the power of the 11,000 women we’ve already trained to lead around the country – half of whom are women of color – and to leverage technology to train hundreds of thousands more."

About Tiffany Dufu

Ever since she accepted the Girl of the Year Award in eighth grade, Tiffany Dufu knew that she wanted to make a profound impact. Raised in the Pacific Northwest, the daughter of a homemaker and a minister, Ms. Dufu was an early feminist who challenged the perceptions of adults around her who often insisted “little girls can’t lead.” She knew that she needed not only to affect change, but also wanted to be public about it – so that other girls could be leaders, too.

As Associate Director of Development at the Seattle Girls’ School, a nonprofit education institution committed to giving all girls the power to be innovative, confident, critical thinkers, Ms. Dufu raised $2 million in just under a year. As Major Gifts Officer at Simmons College, she managed a portfolio of more than 150 donors, and worked in recruitment to create a more diverse student body. While in Boston, Ms. Dufu was featured in a Boston Globe article that, within 24 hours, became the most-forwarded article in BostonGlobe.com history. She leveraged the overwhelming response to encourage a productive dialogue in the city about race relations, and soon became a fellow in LeadBoston and a catalyst for the Commonwealth Compact project, working to make Greater Boston a desired destination for people of color and women.

As Vice President of The White House Project, Ms. Dufu has forged new partnerships, has strengthened the Corporate Council and has refined the organization’s strategy. Having now raised nearly $20 million toward the cause of women and girls, she has been featured in The New York Times, The Seattle Times and on NPR, and is a frequent speaker on nonprofit fundraising and women’s leadership. She currently serves on the board of Harlem4Kids, is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and holds a B.A. and M.A. in English and a Certificate in Fundraising Management from the University of Washington.

17 January 2011

Feeling a bit claustrophobic over this Naomi Wolf debate

It's a rare moment when I call for a demerit on anyone's feminist card and almost unheard of for me to call for someone's card to be revoked outright. That's why the past month's debate about Naomi Wolf has me feeling a bit boxed in. It's not the first time feminism has fit me too snug for comfort, only the most recent.

Do not read that as in support of all of what Wolf has been saying since Assange was arrested on rape charges. Rather this post is about how the full force of the online feminist community came charging against Wolf. Lori at Feministing wrote a good piece on how to respectfully disagree with Wolf, but that only scratches the surface.

Wolf started responding to the arrest in a way, I think we would all want, questioning why HE deserved to be arrested on rape changes when there surely must be other accused rapists on the loose. When Wolf started to change the debate from whether or not a country used rape charges to arrest a man who released state secrets to the world to whether or not rape accusers should be anonymous the feminist community released its wrath on Wolf.

The climate was chilling. There was no room for debate. How do you ask a question in an environment where a fake Naomi Wolf Twitter account was quickly set up to mock her?

How do we as feminists question the judicial system to increase justice for rape survivors? How do we discuss the slippery slope of consent? After reading the charges, it is still not clear to me if the woman who woke up with Assange on her was sleeping in the same bed as him or not. I was and still am scared to ask this question because I think some would see this as questioning her truth. The vocal feminists in the debate seemed to adhere to the idea that consent must be given at every opportunity. But do we all do that? Can we have a conversation about that? Not if we should, but do we? And if not, why? How do we tell men that silence is not consent when in some relationships it is? The women didn't go to the police asking for rape charges and what do feminists think of that? Are we so unable to make that decision ourselves that the police have to make it? What kind of message does that send to women who might want to check in with the police and make the decision herself? Yes, I do question the purpose of moving forward with rape or domestic violence charges without the survivor's approval. I get why, I'm just not 100% sold on it.

But really, how can we have a civil debate about anything, even the toughest issues, if we are vilified? I think that Wolf's arrogance on Democracy Now! vilified her enough. We didn't need to add to her fall from grace. How many people, feminist or not, had serious and honest questions, but felt too scared to ask them? How are we to reach out of our circle to reach new people?

Maybe my questions are dumb and stupid and I'm the only one thinking them, fine. But when I take gender & women's studies courses, the best ones start off with a statement of safety. That they are safe spaces to debate, ask questions, clarify issues....Why can't we have that same standard with our conversations online?

13 January 2011

Searching for a new Mayor: Part 2 - Libraries

I know I'm totally slacking on this mayor thing here. I did add some informational links over on the sidebar (so click on over RSS readers) to help my fellow Chicagoans make their decision. I had planned to go a little crazy blogging over the semester break, but the lure of books won out.

And I know that in part one of this series, I touched on libraries, but Chico's comments to the Sun-Times Editorial Board are forcing me to revisit:
If he had to choose between giving every Chicago Public School a library or every public school student a lap-top computer, he would choose: “A laptop. It opens you to the library of the world. Instead of a teacher saying, ‘Open your books, we’re going to learn about India’, she could say, ‘Pull out your lap-tops. We’re going to Skype with your fifth-grade colleagues in Mumbai.’
The purpose of a library is not to simply have access to books, but to have access to a trained librarian who can teach and guide children as they learn to be researchers and consumers of media. A laptop does none of this.

Yes, I would love for every child in Chicago to have access to the internet. But I also want them to have access to a library and a trained librarian.

In academic circles Wikipedia is a double-edged sword. If you mentioned Wikipedia early on, eyes would roll. Now not so much. More and more academics are learning that like it or not students, like anyone on the internet, will type in a phrase or term into a search engine and find themselves at a Wikipedia page. So it's not a classic encyclopedia - that's the point. We need to teach children as early as possible that Wikipedia is a tool, not so much a source for gaining information. In other words, go there to start your search and use the references section, but do not simply quote JFK's Wikipedia page in your report.

Who is going to teach that? A classroom teacher? On top of the standardized test she is tasked to teach our kids? (That's a dig at the system, not teachers!) Why not a librarian who say went to library school and has been taught how to teach children the methods of research and analyzing sources? How else did we know that we can quote a book, but not the National Enquirer? Seriously, that is what our children are deciding when they go online to do research.

In the internet age we have to allow for students to quote websites, but are we teaching them how to figure out if the site they are quoting is a talking out of their ass or writing a well researched article? That's what librarians are doing on top of making sure our kids have access to books and magazines.

If you haven't guessed by now, I'm terribly disappointed in Gery Chico for falling into a this or that trap. Our children need both access to libraries and laptops. Plain and simple.

09 January 2011

Book Review: Reading Women by Stephanie Staal

In Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life, Stephanie Staal confronts the all-too-familiar reality of finding yourself disconnected from your beloved college courses and their content. What prompts Staal to become disconnected is not so much leaving college and entering adulthood, but her journey into marriage and motherhood. In order to reconnect, Staal audits a series of courses she took at Barnard as an undergrad. So yes, there's that privilege to content with here.

This memoir/analysis of the women's studies canon is not an indictment of marriage or motherhood. Rather it is an honest examination of what happens when feminism smashes into domestic life. On top of that, her husband and Staal flee NYC after the birth of their daughter and the 2001 terrorist attacks for suburbia. So yeah, this is a bit of an indictment on suburbia and how Stepford some moms can become with their obsession over themes for children's rooms.

Staal uses the revisiting of classics like "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "Fear of Flying" to not add to the feminist critique of motherhood and marriage, but to critique the critique. Staal often makes mention of having years of life experience added to her view of classic texts. She talks about being a part of a generation who were raised by feminist mothers or with feminist messages who have now found themselves in a weird situation that is reminiscent to a 1950s housewife.

She also uses this opportunity to do some intergenerational thinking (it's unclear how much Staal added to any of the conversations in class) between GenX and Millenials. While most intergenerational issues seem to be pegged on Second Wavers versus Millennials, it was great to see a Gen Xer take it on like this.

There is a lot in this book for just about everyone who has ever read a women's studies book. You won't agree with all her conclusions. I certainly didn't appreciate her criticism of working-outside-the-home moms and her recollection of being a latch-key kid. But you will appreciate how she makes you want to go dig out your copy of that favorite book from undergrad.

Rediscover the feminist canon with a copy from an indie bookstore or Powells.com. Reading Women is available in February 2011, so pre-order today!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers.

* Book links are affiliate links. If you buy your book here I could make a very small amount of money that goes towards this blog

02 January 2011

I AM THIS LAND: Interview with Julie Zeilinger of The FBomb.org

This is cross-posted with permission from b-side chat

Breakthrough’s I AM THIS LAND contest, now calling on people to make a video on diversity to celebrate our differences and win prizes, also wants to share the important work our partners are doing to uplift diversity. Read our interview with Julie Zeilinger, founder of The FBomb.org, a blog/community created for teenage girls who care about their rights as women and want to be heard.  Julie is also a judge for the I AM THIS LAND contest. Deadline is January 7, 2011!

b-listed: What has your experience as a young feminist been with issues of diversity in America?

photo courtesy of Julie Zeilinger
Julie: Through submissions I’ve posted on the FBomb, I’ve had the opportunity to hear from teen girls (and guys!) from all across the country. While each submission has been unique, there seems to be a common thread: while there is still a lot of ignorance in our country about diversity and its importance, this ignorance isn’t an unsolvable problem. Education and raising awareness goes a long way. This is something I have found in my own life, as well. A big reason why people may discriminate against others or make disparaging jokes is often because they just don’t understand what they’re doing. When you really try to explain to somebody what diversity is and why it’s important - rather than just writing that person off as a lost cause or the “bad guy” - you can make a big impact.

b-listed: We spoke with you last in April 2010. (http://blisted.breakthrough.tv/b-side-chats-interview-with-julie-zeilinger-teenage-editor-of-top-feminist-blog-the-fbomb-8792) Have there been any specific changes at F-Bomb since our last interview?

Julie: Since that interview, the FBomb has begun to receive way more submissions. I only write once or twice a week now and the blog is primarily written by its readers, which I think is fantastic. The readership has also grown considerably.  Apart from that, though, I think everything else still stands.

b-listed: Do you think there is enough talk regarding diversity issues and race relations in the US?

Julie: I think that there is always room for more discussion on the topic of diversity, especially considering that it seems when these discussions are brought up, they’re very general and rarely result in real action. Instead of having vague conversations about how our country should be more accepting, individual institutions and groups need to start having these discussions. For example, I would love it if my school - and schools across the country - would start thinking more about diversity, even if it’s just on the level of in history class examining how a certain historical event affected both genders and people of different races and classes.

b-listed: We’ve noticed diverse writers featured on F-bomb. How do different voices contribute to your blog?

Julie: The cool thing about the submissions on the FBomb is that they come completely from the writer’s perspective and is there because of their own initiative and desire to share their opinions. I don’t seek anybody out to write and I don’t edit for content (only for clarity and grammar). Everything that you read on the FBomb is the direct experience of the person who wrote the post. I think this is so important because whereas on other blogs you may get to know one blogger or a handful of bloggers, and their opinions on certain topics, really well, on the FBomb you are able to see a much wider perspective. What you read on the FBomb is really representative of the thoughts of our generation as a whole.

b-listed: You are one of the judges for our I AM THIS LAND contest. What are your thoughts on the concept behind this initiative?

Julie: I love the fact that the I AM THIS LAND contest approaches the issues of diversity through video. It seems to me that the way we talk about diversity has become so streamlined and predictable - I’m glad that this contest has decided to shake that structure up. I think it will make people take notice. I also love that this contest is conceptually focusing on the positive aspects of diversity rather than focusing on how our country is failing. I think it’s always better to frame things positively.

b-listed: Are you going to continue F-bomb when you go to college?

Julie: I’m still not sure what my role in running the FBomb will be when I’m in college, but it will definitely continue to exist just as it does now.

b-listed: What has surprised you most since you started writing F-bomb? Good or bad.

Julie: I always suspected that there were other people my age out there who identified as feminist and yearned for a feminist community where they could share their ideas, but I think I definitely underestimated the size of such an audience. I would’ve been happy if 10 other teens decided to read the FBomb and now thousands have. I think it just shows that feminism is not dead and that there are a lot of teens out there who are passionate about the cause.

b-listed: How would you complete this: I am this land because….

Julie: I am this land because I put my heart into being the change I want to see around me and fundamentally believe that everybody has the right to live freely.

Enter your video on diversity to win at I AM THIS LAND.


This blog is my personal blog and is not reflective of my employer or what I do for them.

What I'm Currently Reading

I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame
The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

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