Have We Graduated from Feminism?

Since I co-founded Feminist Friends with two friends from graduate school last year, we’ve started to make a name for ourselves by gathering a nice following on Twitter (@FeministFriends), writing and creating a variety of feminist workshops on social media, reproductive justice and leadership for feminist activists.  Our latest adventure was presenting a workshop/discussion at the National Conference of College Women Student Leaders, held at the University of Maryland in College Park on May 31. It’s safe to say that it was a success! Check it out below.

On May 31, Feminist Friends asked young women student leaders at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders in College Park, Maryland, to talk about the intersections of feminism and women’s leadership. Here’s a small sample of the discussion!

  1. We started the discussion off by asking participants what they think of when they hear the word “feminism.”
  2. Feminism is about what you’re doing and not only what you’re saying. #femgrad #NCCWSL2013
  3. Feminism is taking away the limits of what it means to be women & men and to recognize full humanity. #femgrad #NCCWSL2013
  4. Then the conversation turned to the importance of identifying yourself as a feminist.
  5. #youngfems are the NOW of the feminist movement!
  6. Woot! RT @FeministFriends: The now of feminism & women’s leadership is here in the room at University of MD. #youngfems #femgrad @NCCWSL
  7. One student leader talking now about Feminist Coming Out Day on her campus – what a great idea! #femgrad #NCCWSL2013
  8. Standing room only!
  9. Our #femgrad circle takes up the entire room! Awesome discussion! #NCCWSL2013 pic.twitter.com/NmSzKANoFw
  10. @NCCWSL Have We Graduated From Feminism with @FeministFriends was an amazing experience! #femgrad
  11. Thanks to all who came and made an amazing discussion!

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day

MLK Day

So you want to run for office in Maryland? Just do it.

There are many reasons why I love living in Maryland, and the state’s Democratic politics is one of them. If you’re a progressive, how can you not love it? In 2012, we affirmed marriage equality, passed our version of the Dream Act and banned arsenic in agriculture, to name a few high-profile accomplishments. Our sights are now set on repealing the death penalty this year.

But there’s one more reason why Maryland politics is exciting to follow – its female leaders, present and future. I fully realized this when I attended a women’s Candidate, Campaign & Leadership Training, hosted by the Democratic Women’s PAC of Maryland and the Young Democrats of Maryland’s Women Caucus on Jan. 12. The daylong conference was designed to give Democratic women the tools, tips and strategies to run for local and state-wide offices, from campaign 101 to fundraising, online strategies, field operations and public speaking.

One look around the packed lecture hall at UMBC, and it was clear that the room was full of women of different ages, races and backgrounds from across the state. More important was the enthusiasm, tone and energy of the conference. Women (elected to public office or not) were helping other women by respectfully sharing their knowledge and experiences in the field and doing so with a good dose of humor and encouragement. Rep. Donna Edwards (D), Delegates Susan Lee, Ariana Kelly, Mary Washington; Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin and Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley were some of the elected women who offered advice and encouraged several women eyeing public office to keep in touch after the conference.

Underlying this energy was a feeling of working together, not against one another, to increase the number of women in public office in Maryland. The supportive attitude and energy of women mentoring women for leadership positions is what will make the difference in increasing our numbers in statewide and Congressional offices. As women, we have a responsibility to grow new political leadership networks on local, state and federal levels, or else we won’t be heard.

Numbers from the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University gives us an idea of where Maryland is in terms of female representation and how far it still has to go. According to the Center for American Women in Politics, Maryland ranks 8th among state legislatures for the proportion of women. Out of 188 legislators in the Maryland House and Senate, only 57 are women. Women are 30 percent of the state legislature. We have one female U.S. Senator (Barbara Mikulski), one Congresswoman (Rep. Donna Edwards), and no women in executive positions. (This could change if Del. Heather Mizeur, a strong feminist, runs for governor and wins!)

Although Maryland’s numbers are better than women’s representation in the U.S. House and Senate (18 percent), I think we can do better and set an example for the rest of the country. The Candidate, Campaign & Leadership Training is a step in the right direction and I’m already keeping an eye on a few women here in Frederick County who could run for office. I hope they do. Ultimately, I want to see Maryland women make up 50 percent of the state legislature and more. If Saturday’s training was any indication, I’d say that we can do it.

Record Number of Women Sworn in to 113th Congress

Let’s start the new year off with some good news!

Newly elected members of the 113th Congress will be sworn in today, including a record number of 20 women Senators. In fact, the new Congress is the most diverse in history, in terms of race, gender, sexuality and religion. This infographic from Think Progress highlights the diversity within the new Congress. (It also serves as a good reminder that our socially constructed identities of race, gender, sexual orientation, age and faith aren’t mutually exclusive. After all, the category of “women” includes all of the above, and vice versa.)

Also check out this Washington Post photo series of our newly elected female Senators.

Happy New Year 2013!

No One Wins a (Tug-of) War on Women: From Uteri to Personhood, Why Feminists Must Reframe the Debate

Yesterday, Fem2pt0 published a piece that I co-authored with my colleagues at Feminist Friends!

Click here to read the article, “No One Wins a (Tug-of) War on Women: From Uteri to Personhood, Why Feminists Must Reframe the Debate.”

We worked collaboratively on the piece for months through many edits and interviews with Maternity Care Coalition, a reproductive health organization in Philadelphia, and Steph Herold, founder of IamDrTiller.com. The response has been positive and we at Feminist Friends couldn’t be more excited.

Let us know what you think on Twitter (@FeministFriends) and be sure to follow us!

Want some sexism with your glass of wine?

This is a real wine label. For a “sweet white wine,” mind you.

If you’re familiar with Maryland wine and have attended the Maryland Wine Festival last month in Westminster, you might have seen this wine at Knob Hall winery’s booth. I happened to see this label on Facebook recently and stopped myself from angrily/sarcastically commenting on the photo.

Why, you might ask? The answer is tricky and a full disclosure is necessary: I work part-time in the Maryland wine industry, and have worked in it for the past three years. I really enjoy my part-time job. I know and like Knob Hall’s winery owners and I always stop by their booth to say hello at wine festivals when I’m also working. I also visited their winery in Clear Spring, Md., in January, tasted their wines, bought and enjoyed them. Maryland wine is a small, interconnected community of wine makers who have a passion and dedication to their craft. It’s a long, hard process to make a bottle of wine (and cider) and their work should be properly appreciated and enjoyed.

I’m not writing this post to shame Knob Hall or to create a petition to get the wine maker to change or remove the label, or call for a boycott of the winery. (I’ve already made Knob Hall aware of my position that I find this label offensive. If you also find this offensive, let them know.)

For me, this label is a perfect example of how we don’t have to look very far to find sexist images of women that are used to sell alcoholic beverages. This gold digger trope is widely accepted and visible in our pop culture with reality TV shows (ahem, The Bachelorette). She’s often portrayed as a superficial, beautiful and not very intelligent woman who values money over love. The gold digger doesn’t want to independently make her own money. Her manipulative, scheming goal is to marry a rich man for his money. (Get that, men? Don’t trust women. They’re only after your money, which, by the way, determines your manliness and self worth, because you’re not a man if you’re not providing financial security for her. After all, you’re supposed to be the breadwinner.) The gold digger stereotype and the gendered, sexist roles for men and women that it generates is disconnected from our reality today, since women make up 50% of the workforce and earn more bachelor’s and master’s degrees than men. The majority of American families would not survive on a male breadwinner model alone. Women’s professional and economic contributions are absolutely essential and often determine a family’s survival.

But as a woman in American culture, I’m bombarded with ads and commercials for alcohol that perpetuate harmful gendered norms of women and men. It’s not only big, corporate beer and liquor companies that do this. Corporations sell nearly everything using some sort of female image, likeness and/or body. If you’re a feminist or if these images simply bother you, you let these companies know you’re not buying it. These types of sexist media are more like small gnats flying around my face, annoying me. I swat them away then mostly forget about it until a big event like the Super Bowl comes around again, chock full of expensive, sexist TV commercials that make my jaw drop.

But if it’s a small business in an industry in which I work that’s creating the sexist media of women in order to sell their product, then it becomes personal and impossible for me to ignore. Because I know they can do better. Most Maryland wineries don’t rely on insulting, offensive stereotypes based on gender, race, class and sexuality to sell their product. It’s entirely possible to be successful and consciously avoid pissing off a big chunk of your customer base, which happens to be women. According to a recent Gallup poll this year, among adult drinkers, 52% of women prefer wine compared to 20% of men. Women also account for nearly 58% of wine buyers in 2011, according to The Beverage Information Group. Wine makers are sitting up and taking notice of this trend and marketing their wines to women, although many stupidly pander to women’s roles as mother/wife with wine names such as “MommyJuice” and “Mad Housewife.”

It’s also hard for me to ignore the Gold Digger label because I know the people who are ultimately responsible for making these business decisions. If they’re creating sexist images of women, then it’s visual proof that sexism is more deeply embedded in the local communities we inhabit and personally invest ourselves in everyday, even if they appear to be woman-friendly and innocuous. Being aware of the Gold Digger wine connects my own little fun Maryland wine world with the bigger picture. It makes real the problem of sexism in advertisements and media. It is these realizations that moved me to write an email to Knob Hall and to publicly blog about it.

The Gold Digger label and my experience in the Maryland wine industry reminds me of many feminist “aha!” moments that women have over and over again when they connect the dots between their personal experiences, sexism and gender politics. The funny thing is, these “aha” moments haven’t stopped for me, 10 years after I first started calling myself a feminist. I don’t expect every woman who sees the Gold Digger wine to experience the same outrage as I did. A cursory glance at the photo’s Facebook comments of customers gushing about the wine tells me otherwise. But we need to sober up and start thinking critically about the media images of women we consume on a daily basis! Especially those that are right in front of us in our own communities. Let them know we’re not buying it.

What I’m Reading: Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church

Navigating my way through social interactions and institutions that are often at odds with my feminism is one of the most difficult challenges as a feminist. It’s endlessly frustrating and fascinating because it’s impossible to remove myself from my society and culture. Sooner or later, we all have to choose when to reconcile and negotiate our feminist beliefs with the social institutions we belong to, or choose to create new ways of being that are apart and rooted in feminism.

Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than women’s membership in patriarchal, Abrahamic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As someone who grew up Catholic, became a feminist and is now a non-practicing Catholic, I’ve worked with deeply religious women (and a handful of men) who are able to reconcile and merge their feminist beliefs in women’s equality with their devotion to God as members of patriarchal religions. I’m often in awe of their ability, because I can’t do that. My upbringing in a conservative Roman Catholic church in liberal New York state and the current state of affairs in the Church have made sure of that. However, I believe that the sites of struggle between feminist and religious beliefs are extremely important to women’s equality.

So when I read a review of Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church by Kaya Oakes, in Bitch last week, I promptly downloaded the book to my Kindle Fire. I want to know how and why a feminist would return to the Catholic Church today, with all its turmoil, misogyny, sex abuse of minors and ideological struggles for control between the church’s liberal and conservative factions. I’m barely into the book and one part immediately struck a chord with me, a child of an Irish Catholic family:

Over the years, I’ve wondered if, rather than rejoining this troubled, troubling institution, I ought to look for a church that’s closer to my political beliefs, something like the Episcopalians or the United Church of Christ, both of which not only have female clergy but support gay people as well. But there’s a root problem: I’m Irish, and when you’re an Irish Catholic, even a radical one, some part of you is always going to be Catholic. It’s that God gene, but it’s also the narrative I was brought up with, the story that we were part of an oppressed minority that came to America fleeing oppression and found…more oppression.  There’s something appealing about the idea that my ancestors were not tea-sipping Episcopalian Wasps, but broke-as-hell, ghetto-dwelling, hard-swearing, garbage-truck-driving, potato-famine-escaping, gallon-o’-whiskey-drinking, short-lifespan living Catholics. Yes, the Irish Catholic Church has even more ills to answer for than the  American Church, but it’s also part of my culture.  When I pray, I know generations of my family who came before me prayed in the very same way.

Oakes perfectly captures the question that all feminists must grapple with: stay within an institution and work to reform from within, or find a more welcoming place? More than that, she makes the argument that culture and family lineage has a more powerful hold than we think or admit. And that, I believe, is the heart of the endless frustration and fascination that I have as a feminist navigating the parameters of culture/family/tradition. At what point do you say, to hell with family/culture/tradition? When do you work within it, renegotiating these traditions without losing yourself or compromising your feminist beliefs?