Rape Culture and Glenn Beck Doesn’t Like Me

I had the privilege of seeing comedian and Citizen Radio co-host Jamie Kilstein perform this critique of rape culture in Philadelphia in November. He totally rocked it. I love a male comedian who’s not afraid of speaking out! Check it out, and listen to Citizen Radio (wearecitizenradio.com)!

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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.

Women conquer the 2012 Olympic games

I’ve never been a sports fan. I was one of those kids who learned that a really good book could get me through professional baseball and hockey games in New York City, one of the most exciting sports cities in the country. I wasn’t easily impressed then. It took me more than a decade to actually sit up, pay attention and ask questions at baseball and hockey games and to appreciate them…once or twice a year. I have a nagging suspicion that I could have liked sports as a girl if I saw any professional athlete on the field who looked like me and who was equally and popularly celebrated for her athleticism in our culture as Yankees or Rangers players are in New York. I didn’t, and I got the message – only boys play real sports that are appreciated and worthwhile.

But I’ve always loved watching the summer Olympics solely for the reason that it’s one of the few times that I can see a diversity of female athletes competing during prime time television and getting the public attention they deserve. In no other Olympic summer games have women been so visible and spectacular than they have been in London. Aside from the Olympics every two years, we still don’t see American women athletes getting roughly the same airtime, enthusiasm and support as male athletes. Unless it’s professional women’s tennis, golf or basketball and even that’s sporadic and ignored by the majority of American sports fans. (It should also be noted that the Olympics isn’t perfect either and plays gender police in controlling the femininity of athletes in addition to its inherent nationalism.)

We’re at the end of the 2012 Olympic games in London and now’s a good time to celebrate how women have kicked ass and taken names. I’m focusing on the positive because for every sexist NY Times article on Lolo Jones or nice-girl-turns-mean narrative of Missy Franklin, women athletes have shown critics how great they are by setting world records and winning more medals for team U.S.A. than the men, whom they outnumber. (Click here for a list of athletes on team U.S.A. and their medals.)

This non-exhaustive list is a few of my favorite moments of women’s achievements in the 2012 games.

  1. 17 year-old Claressa  Shields beat Russia’s Nadezda Torlopova, 19-12, in the women’s Olympic middleweight final. She is the first woman to win gold in boxing. 
  2. U.S. Women’s Soccer team defeats Japan, 2-1, to win the gold! 
  3. Gabby Douglas becomes the first African-American woman to win double gold as all-around champion and team gymnastics.
  4. Afghan athlete Tahmina Kohistani competed and represented her country for the first time. 
  5. Kayla Harrison won the first gold medal in judo for the United States.

The personal is political. Yes, that includes you, Chick-Fil-A consumer.

I’ve been silently watching and reading as the emotional, heated debate over Chick-Fil-A unfolded this past week on my Facebook newsfeed, TV and Twitter. Until now, I haven’t felt compelled to write anything on this issue because the news that Chick-Fil-A donates some of its corporate earnings to anti-gay organizations is old news. And I’m confused why Chick-Fil-A supporters think this is a freedom of religion issue. No one’s telling Chick-Fil-A to close on Sundays or stop being Christian.

The issue is that customers’ money is funding the harmful and hateful agenda of organizations that are actively denying rights to Americans. Chick-Fil-A is mixing business and politics in the name of Christianity and using the cry of freedom of religion as a smokescreen to get away with questionable corporate donations. Christian ethics and beliefs demand that you love your neighbor as yourself. It doesn’t instruct us to hurt each other and deny each other full equality as men and women. What kind of Christians are the people who run Chick-Fil-A?

What motivated me to finally write about Chick-Fil-A is this opinion piece in The Atlantic by Jonathan Merritt, in which he defends the fast food chain and questions the effectiveness of boycotts in the culture wars. Sure, Chick-Fil-A donates to more worthy causes like education and boycotts of consumer products are sometimes questionable in their effectiveness, but I stopped following Merritt’s argument when he wrote this:

But my bigger question is this: In a nation that’s as divided as ours is, do we really want our commercial lives and our political lives to be so wholly intermeshed? And is this really the kind of culture we want to create? Culture war boycotts cut both ways and are much more likely to meet with success when prosecuted by large groups of people, such as Christian activists, who are more numerous than gays and lesbians and their more activist supporters.

(bold emphasis is mine)

What! Stop the chicken frying for a second and let’s think about this rationally. Merritt’s question – “do we really want our commercial lives and our political lives to be so wholly intermeshed?” – has already happened. Yes, Mr. Merritt, the personal is (still) political. Always was, and always will be. Ask any feminist. The daily decisions I make on where and what I should spend my money on is personal and has political consequences, no matter what political party I belong to. If, as a country, we thought more about how the mundane details and decisions of our personal lives connected to and affected larger politics, we’d fully realize our power as voters and citizens and demand real change. Instead, we’re told to shut up, eat the damn sandwich and accused of attacking religious freedom.

Merritt’s second claim in the paragraph is that Christian activists outnumber gays, lesbians and whoever else happens to support them (???). Following this logic, being a Christian activist and gay/lesbian are mutually exclusive. Sorry, you can’t be Christian and gay/lesbian. Oh, and if you’re wondering, there are no Christians included in the “more activist supporters” category for gays and lesbians. If Merritt believes that culture wars like Chick-Fil-A are so damaging and ineffective to our society and country, why is he pitting one group (Christian activists) against another group (gays and lesbians) and betting that the Christians will win in culture war boycotts?

I agree with Merritt that we need more healthy, level-headed disagreements and Facebook, 24-hour news channels/cycles are not the forums to hold them.

Here’s a suggestion: acknowledge and fully realize that the personal is political. Go read Wayne Self’s outstanding piece, “The Chick Fellatio: Stuck in the Craw” for a rebuttal to Merritt and all other Chick-Fil-A supporters. Then ask yourself if you’re still hungry for Chick-Fil-A.

“Having it all” without Feminism

The tired, old question, “Can women have it all?” that Anne-Marie Slaughter resurrected in The Atlantic last month isn’t going away now that Yahoo! tapped pregnant Google exec Marissa Mayer to be its CEO. Since the news broke this week, some writers have newly considered Mayer’s rise to the top in relation to Slaughter’s answer to the question (no, women can’t have it all).

I’ve read Slaughter’s cover story in The Atlantic and I’m happy she raised thoughtful, critical solutions to the problem, despite the fact that she doesn’t fully propose to fundamentally dismantle the male-centric, heterosexist models of what work and family means. And I’m happy to see Mayer take the helm of Yahoo! and increase the number of women-CEOs of Fortune 500 companies from 19 to 20.

What concerns me is the Mayer’s dismissive, narrow and mistaken views of what feminism is and who feminists are. In a short clip from the PBS-AOL series “Makers,” Mayer said this about her relationship to feminism:

I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don’t, I think have, sort of, the militant drive and the sort of, the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I do think that feminism has become in many ways a more negative word. You know, there are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there is more good that comes out of positive energy around that than comes out of negative energy.

Mayer doesn’t have to label herself a feminist, although it’s clear from her words that she believes in women’s equality and capabilities. Her unsettling and damaging message is the stereotypical image of the angry, militant feminist who walks around with an attitude and just can’t get over it. If only those angry feminists would stop being so negative and get out of their own way, they’d have so many opportunities!

What Mayer doesn’t realize is that it was those feminists with “the chip on the shoulder” and the “militant drive” who helped create those “amazing opportunities all over the world for women.” Whether she intended to or not, Mayer’s message in the video is that feminism is irrelevant to being a successful woman like her. Don’t agitate for change and equality, ladies – just take advantage of all the great opportunities out there!

This anti-feminist advice fits in perfectly with the conundrum that Fbomb.org editor Julie Zeilinger describes in her piece, “Why Millennial Women Do Not Want to Lead.” Zeilinger states that girls and young women face impossibly high achievement standards in all areas of their life (work, education, relationships) and a culture that simultaneously tells them they can do anything, but also that they’re not enough. Zeilinger believes that these unrealistic standards of perfection snuff out Millennial women’s desire to lead because young women don’t think they’re enough to lead.

Likewise, Mayer’s dismissive and disparaging remarks about the relationship between feminism and women’s leadership and what it really takes for women to lead buttresses this leadership gap among Millennial women. In Mayer’s view, if women take advantage of opportunities (setting even higher standards of achievement) and ignore feminism (which equips girls and women to fight against cultural messages that they’re not beautiful, smart or capable enough), then that’s all they need to achieve and “have it all.” Not exactly. A vibrant feminist movement, in all its variations, is needed to help propel and empower women and girls into leadership positions, sustain them and nurture the next generation of female leaders. There is already so much that is stacked against girls and women that feminism provides a confident voice that tells us we’re enough as we are and aims toward a more equitable future. Hearing remarks like Mayer’s is suicidal, counter productive and damaging to women’s already fragile sense of their leadership capabilities. You certainly don’t have to label yourself a feminist if you don’t want to. But please, please get a clue and give credit to where credit is due.

To hear Anne-Marie Slaughter speak recently about her cover story and the news about Marissa Mayer, check out her appearance on Meet the Press’ PRESS Pass

In Defense of Girls and Lena Dunham…

I know, I know. So much praise and criticism from entertainment and feminist bloggers has dominated the pop culture discussion of the new HBO series Girls since the pilot aired on April 15, that we get it. She’s a voice of a generation! No! She doesn’t speak for me!

So what else is there to say? Plenty. Driving back from D.C. yesterday, I was excited to catch Fresh Air’s interview with Lena Dunham, the creater, producer and star of Girls. It was the first time I heard her address the serious criticism toward the show that it doesn’t include any people of color as characters:

I wrote the first season primarily by myself, and I co-wrote a few episodes. But I am a half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs. Something I wanted to avoid was tokenism in casting. If I had one of the four girls, if, for example, she was African-American, I feel like — not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience [that] I wasn’t able to speak to. I really wrote the show from a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me. And only later did I realize that it was four white girls. As much as I can say it was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, ‘I hear this and I want to respond to it.’ And this is a hard issue to speak to because all I want to do is sound sensitive and not say anything that will horrify anyone or make them feel more isolated, but I did write something that was super-specific to my experience, and I always want to avoid rendering an experience I can’t speak to accurately. 

Lena Dunham wrote what she knew – her own experience as a white, upper-middle class, 20-something educated girl – and as the show’s main writer and sole creator, she could write what she wanted and what she felt comfortable writing. She also wanted to avoid tokenizing the experiences and voices of people of color, which is a legitimate feeling as a young writer. Dunham is a young writer who created a TV show that is an extension of her lived experiences. Why are we placing so much expectation on her that she be everything to everywoman?

The tension and harsh criticism toward Lena Dunham tells me more about our collective desire and demand for the inclusion of many women’s voices and experiences in television shows from producer to writer, creator and star. This collective desire and demand is good and healthy – we should advocate for more TV shows that include women’s voices that aren’t overwhelmingly representative of young, white, cisgender, heterosexual women’s experiences.

The loud criticism against the show is also indicative of our growing cultural and social acknowledgement that we live in a multi-racial and gendered society that isn’t reflected back to us in television and media. I’m certainly aware of it. In my initial, mixed reaction to the pilot of Girls, I was annoyed by the privilege and sense of entitlement from Hannah, the main character of the show, and the unrealistic nature of the girls’ living situation. Seriously, what post-college, unpaid intern can live anywhere in New York City? I don’t think my high school and college friends in New York did that. And I’m supposed to believe that Hannah’s college professor parents are footing the bill? Yeah, right. More importantly, I thought, how can Hannah be a Millennial living in NYC and only have white friends? (Yes, some people do.) But after watching the first five episodes and having conversations with other feminist friends about these debates, I’m hooked. For me, the show is funny, bold, fresh and all too real in terms of navigating relationships, friendships and life after college.

So let’s leave Lena Dunham alone. Let’s take her show and her unique, singular experience that speaks to who she is – white, educated, young, middle/upper class – and leave it at that. Some girls will find themselves in it in varying degrees, and some won’t. That’s ok. Let’s focus on creating more opportunities for women of all backgrounds and experiences in television and not place such huge expectations on Lena Dunham to fix all of what’s wrong with women in media. If yesterday’s NPR interview is any indication, she’s intelligently aware of the criticism and seems intent on really addressing it in the show’s upcoming second season.

Watch Girls every Sunday at 10:30p.m. on HBO. 

This post also appeared on Rhyme et Reason

Focus on the Family thinks Tim Tebow deserves more respect than you.

The Golden Rule doesn’t apply to the good Christian folks at Focus on the Family. Last week, The Washington Post ran an op-ed piece, “The Temptation of Tim Tebow,” by Esther Fleece, assistant to the president for millennial relations at Focus on the Family.

In the piece, Fleece chastised the Web site AshleyMadison.com for offering a $1 million bounty to anyone who offers proof of having sex with Tim Tebow, the New York Jets quarterback who is also known for being a 24 year-old Christian virgin, and the site’s CEO Noah Biderman for defending it. While I agree with Fleece that the actions of this Web site are crass and silly, she finally gets to the real point of her column: “…namely, that abstinence before marriage is an impossibility and/or a silly relic from the past.” After trotting out statistics to support her point that abstinence before marriage is more common than you think, she gets to her final point:

Here’s the bottom line: Noah Biderman is sadly representative of those who deeply underestimate the power of sex. It was not designed by God as a casual act to be shared indiscriminately with anyone and everyone. It was devised by our creator as the healthy byproduct of a healthy marriage, not the objective of a relationship…

Fleece then goes on to write that she agrees with people when they tell her that she has “missed out” on having premarital sex:

I have missed out on heartbreak, insecurities relating to my body, sharing the most precious part of my heart with someone other than my husband, STDs, unplanned pregnancy, etc. Not all my friends then, or now, understood or understand my commitment to purity. The difference between AshleyMadison.com and my friends, though, is that even though they don’t share my convictions, they respect me for the way I am living them out.

Uhhh, what? Just because a man or woman chooses to remain sexually abstinent before marriage, doesn’t mean he/she misses out on heartbreak, bodily insecurities and sharing his/her heart with someone else. All of these things can happen if you are a virgin or not. After all, you can love someone deeply and have your heart broken even if you haven’t had sex with him/her. We like to pretend that the bonds of matrimony automatically protect you from having your heart broken, STIs and unplanned pregnancy and it doesn’t. Some spouses cheat and use birth control inconsistently or not at all. And as a woman in this culture and society that constantly bombards me and you with gendered beauty norms, how has Ms. Fleece NOT had bodily insecurities?! It’s impossible. It’s clear she’s talking about heterosexual, vaginal intercourse as the only sex that’s worth discussing. But what about oral sex? Can you still be a virgin and have oral sex? If you answer yes, then I’m sorry – you can still be exposed to STIs.

Tim Tebow deserves that same respect. He not only believes, but boldly lives by the belief, that sex outside the context of marriage forms permanent bonds and memories from temporary relationships, and is therefore neither long-lasting or truly satisfying to the soul.

Fleece’s last claim – that Tim Tebow deserves respect for his personal decision to remain a virgin until marriage – is correct. He does. But her unwillingness to give the same respect to those who don’t fit her definition of “good sex,” (even if it’s a sleazy Web site and CEO) and who have sex in many social contexts outside the confines of heterosexual marriage, is hypocrisy. Tim Tebow and others like him have one view of sex and it doesn’t make it any better than other views of what sex is and isn’t. Fleece’s view is one that I happen to disagree with and don’t live by, but that’s what makes the world go around.

If Esther Fleece doesn’t like people judging her and not respecting her for her personal, sexual decisions that only concern her, then why is she doing the same thing to those of us who don’t think sex outside of marriage is wrong and can be long-lasting and satisfying to the soul? Spare me the morality lesson.