Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Community: Let’s Take a Stand Against Rape

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Community: Let’s Take a Stand Against Rape

My Feminist Friends partner, Rachel Piazza, wrote a great blog post about rape in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community in Washington D.C. The rape, which happened on New Year’s Eve, was captured on a parking garage surveillance video and hasn’t received much attention from traditional and social media.

Check out her piece! She’s a BJJ purple belt and one of a handful of women in this community.


Feminist Reads on the Metro

I spend an average of 20 hours commuting to my temp job in Washington D.C. and needless to say, I have a lot of time to do nothing but read on the bus and Metro. (Seriously. It’s also why this blog has been somewhat neglected.) Twenty hours is like the equivalent of having a part-time job strictly for reading and it’s the only thing that makes my commute bearable through highway traffic and delays on Metro’s Red Line. Besides that, I love to read. Before I started working in D.C., I’d always grab the latest book I was reading for pleasure or for graduate school, take it on the Metro and pick up where I left off. Before I knew it, I was at my stop in the District. Like listening to NPR in my car while driving, reading on the Metro/bus keeps me sane…most of the time.

In the past six weeks, Bitch magazine, The Nation, Reality Bites Back, Express daily newspaper and my Twitter feed have provided me with a steady diet of good, feminist reads and quick synopses of breaking news. (Also, see previous post on Radical Reinvention.) Sometimes I come across a great passage in a book or article and have that sudden urge to share it with someone. And then realize that that’s pretty much out of the question since I’m traveling alone. It happened to me a few weeks ago when I finished the spring/summer issue of Ms. and read Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s piece, “I Can Handle It,” a personal essay chronicling her experience in an abusive, violent relationship. (The essay was first published on Feministe last year.) Whitefield-Madrano writes about being in the fog of an abusive relationship – of having no idea who she was and having her life rearranged.

The last paragraph of her essay stands alone and transcends the subjects of her essay (domestic violence and feminist invincibility) to become a wonderful, broader point about allowing us, as feminists, to feel vulnerable and connect with one another in times of need. It was a reminder that we need to acknowledge our vulnerability and weakness and the transformative aspect of it. It definitely stayed with me that morning:

I wonder what would happen if we, as feminists, started to see that even the fiercest among us might not be capable of seeing outside her fog. I wonder what would happen if we all had a broader template that showed that vulnerability is just as valid a state for a feminist to inhabit as strength and invincibility. I wonder what would happen if we better understood that feminism, independence, capability and autonomy do not form a cloak of protection. I wonder what would happen if we, as feminists, were prepared to look our sisters in the eye and respond to I can handle it with No, actually, you can’t.But together, we can.

I’ve moved on from that issue of Ms. and I’m now throwing in podcasts of Citizen Radio, an independent political radio show by Allison Kilkenny and Jamie Kilstein, and The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson to my morning and evening mix. I even found a rare first-edition copy of Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation by Mary Daly in Kulturas secondhand books one day during my lunch break.

My commute sucks, and if I’m a little bit sleep deprived during the week, at least I can catch up on my feminist reading and media. Check out all of these suggestions and feel free to leave me recommendations in the comments! I guarantee these books and podcasts will improve your commuter life.

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?

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 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

Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage

Dismal news from the 4th Estate.

Read The Washington Post’s story on this.

What I’m Reading…

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

  • and some criticism of  Eltahawy’s piece since its publication.