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Archive for June, 2010

Check out this column by Stephanie Salter in Terre Haute, Indiana’s Tribune-Star inspired by ReelGirl’s coverage of Jennifer Berger and About-Face.

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Just when men are reaching the age where they are maturing sexually, around 50 or so, finally understanding women’s bodies and how they work; how to really make love; that women prefer a “slow hand” (as the Pointer Sisters asked for so eloquently twenty years ago) instead of growing up, they’re medicating and regressing. Viagra is making sex worse, not better, and a lot of women wish that men would stop taking it.

Viagra

Lucinda Watson, who blogs about single life for the over 50 set, posted about the trials of dating men in the Viagra demographic. Though she also writes that WEB MD reports that men under 40 are the fastest growing demographic of Viagra users. Watson blogs: “”Pfizer, the makers of Viagra, state that this is understandable as younger men want their sexual performance to be superior.” Watson warns this is exactly the wrong direction to go in to create better sex and better relationships.

For the record: women are sexual beings and enjoy sex. The challenge here is not that women are asexual, frigid, or that women need to be in love (or even like) to enjoy sex. It’s almost the opposite: much of women’s bodies qualify as erogenous zones– hair, shoulders, back, neck, and contrary to popular belief, breasts. Breasts are not in fact, purely decorative, only around for visual pleasure of men (or feeding of babies.) Breasts are secondary sex characteristics, and exist in part for the sensory pleasure of women.

While men’s erections are slowing down (or even before that happens if they’re smart) it would be great if they tried to become less genital/ intercourse/ self focused. It’s an opportunity for sex to get more incredible, rather than taking a little blue pill to transform themselves back into the not-so-great penis/ intercourse/ self focused teenagers they always were.

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Real women are becoming an endangered species.

Click here to see the digital transformation of Faith Hill

Identify Photoshopping when you see itMargot Magowan 

Identify Photoshopping when you see it

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Recently, actress Kristen Stewart got in trouble from rape crisis groups and media pundits for saying paparazzi shots of her made her feel as if she were looking at someone being raped. Kristen wasn’t raped, but it’s sadly ironic that not long after her statement which offended so many people (and one she profusely apologized for) Perez Hilton posts a photo to his Twitter feed of Miley Cyrus where she is allegedly wearing no underwear. Hilton claims Cyrus deserves this exposure, because she was not acting “ladylike.” Cyrus wasn’t raped either, but what Hilton did is an assault on female sexuality with a camera. I wish Perez Hilton would stop slut-shaming girls and women when they don’t dress and behave the way he thinks they should.

actress Kristen Stewart

Jezebel says “Leave Miley’s Crotch Alone.”

I made the same request a couple days ago. No luck so far.

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The story continues. Because Miley Cyrus was allegedly wearing no underwear, she deserves to have a photo of her go viral on the internet. And actress Kristen Stewart just got in trouble for saying paparazzi shots of her made her feel like she was looking at someone raped. Kristen wasn’t raped, nor was Miley, but this is an assault on female sexuality with a camera. Thank goodness Perez Hilton, who justified the photo saying he was teaching Cyrus to be “ladylike,” is around, a bastion of morality, making sure that girls and women dress properly and behave appropriately.

Perez Hilton Perez Hilton “Queen of All Media” 

Jezebel says “Leave Miley’s Crotch Alone.”

I made the same request a couple days ago. No luck so far.

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I don’t usually read memoirs. I feel like I have no time to read so whenever I get some, I go for my favorites: fiction or social commentary. But in the past few months, ever since I took 2 solo flights to NYC, I can’t stop with the memoirs. I’ve read 6 amazing stories about women’s lives. These books have been so good and original, they remind me of that Muriel Rukeyser much repeated quote:

What if one women told the truth about her life?

The world would break open

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Here are my recommendations in reverse chronological order– what I’m reading now back to what I started with:

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman This is the story of a woman who got involved in low level drug trafficking (carrying/ picking up suitcases, other errands like that.) When the big time head of the operation was arrested long after Kerman had given up the drug crowd, moved to New York, and had a career, she named names and the feds came for Kerman. This book makes you feel as if you’re with Kerman behind bars, her silent cellmate. I’ve never read a memoir about a women’s prison before or any prison life. It’s fascinating and makes me feel like I will never break the law (though I did just get a ticket for an expired car registration and, at the same time, for not having my wildly tantruming kid seatbelted properly. Double ticket. Hadn’t stared the book yet.)

Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies, a memoir about Gillies husband leaving her for another woman after she’s given up her acting career and moved to Ohio with him and their two young kids. I think there are other ‘divorce’ memoirs, but I haven’t read them. This is a total page-turner.

Some Girls by Jillian Lauren. Lauren writes about her experience as a sex worker, traveling to Brunei. I’ve read other sex work memoirs but none as insightful and raw as this one. I blogged about it here.

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert This is the sequel to Eat, Pray, Love and chronicles Gilbert’s travails after she decides to marry the hot guy from Bali in order to get him citizenship after the restrictions of the Patriot Act threaten to keep them apart. I feel much the same way Gilbert does about marriage, and I loved reading her personal story about how she came to peace with age old institution. I blogged about her book here.

Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman. Silverman, you probaly know, is a comedian; this book is hilarious but also poignant. She wet her bed until she was sixteen years old. One passage totally sticks in my head: Silverman is just back from sleepaway camp, a traumatizing experience for a bedwetter; she secretly wore diapers at night. When she gets off the camp bus, full of shame, her mom is frenetically taking pictures of her. Silverman has a strange feeling of getting attention yet being completely ignored. When I read this, I thought it was a great way to describe the experience many women have of being looked at but not being seen. I blogged about the book here.

Lit by Mary Karr, best-selling author of The Liar’s Club. Her memoir of recovering from alcoholism. There are many, many memoirs of addiction/ recovery of course, but Karr is such a beautiful writer, she could write about my refrigerator, and I’d love it.



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This is great piece by Beatrice Bowles. As she writes, people are afraid to talk about money and sex,but especially God/ religion/ spirituality in an open way. In my earlier post today, it mentions the Vital Voices event I attended, where retired Bishop William Swing of the United Religions Initiative said, “A lot of times religion keeps women from taking a place at the table.”

Here is Bowles’s piece about that issue:

Before the sixties, sex, money and, God forbid, religion were considered off-limit topics–three subjects we were supposed to never discuss.  In the sixties, sex became more open and sexologists’ once-scandalous insights became common knowledge–from the joys of orgasm to the horrors of abuse.  The subject of money, too, has become anything but taboo.  Whether in the media or in political debate or at the dinner table, we assess the uses and abuses of wealth.  We debate the design of our economic system–free-market or regulated?  Books on economics for adults and children flourish.  Economic reformers and white-collar criminals make the news about equally.

Still the subject of religion remains on shaky ground.  The comfort, guidance, and inspiration that religions offer stand in stark contrast to the prejudice that can breed within and between them.  Despite freedom of religion (and/or from religion) being a tenet of our society, a dangerous propensity for intolerance shadows faith.  In some places, the scientific teaching of evolution is banned by doctrinal literalists.  In others, doubt or discussion of religious differences is considered heresy.

Caught in the quagmire, intellectuals flail about.  Cultural gadfly Christopher Hitchens pushes for a new atheism in “God is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything.”(2009)  In his New Yorker article, ‘God in the Quad,’ scholar James Woods retreats cautiously towards the holiness of science as grounds for faith.

So far, spiritual leaders have us failed, too.  Asked recently if there was anything new in spiritual education that might ease the muddle, a top Christian cleric assured me, “Nothing.”   Religions persist in misguided conflicts with science and/or with each other.

Yet a solution lies within reach if we establish two grand and desperately needed distinctions.  First is that religion and science are parallel but different levels of thought.  Science attempts to explain physical matter, its laws, properties and energetics, at a whole level above and beyond science.  Religions attempt to explain the abstract meaning of life: why are we here, how shall we best live, what vast intelligence lies behind creation, what happens when we die?

Secondly, all religions, being abstract in essence, are relative in nature–no matter how grand, prescriptive, helpful or precious each may be to their leaders and followers.  Is there only one right deity?  Only one right prayer?  One right ritual?  Only one sacred story?  No more than there is one right flower or river.  No religion can ever trump another.  In a democracy, no religion should be allowed to trump freedom of faith.  As we know too well, the worst abuses of spiritual authority seem to arise in religions which claim infallibility and demand blind, unthinking obedience from their followers.

Properly defined, religion and science cannot and do not negate each other.  Scientific thinking and mythic thinking are complementary, not contradictory, forms of thought.  Conflicts arise when either realm attempts to deny the validity of the other.  Ask Galileo.  Sorrily, our educators seem stymied by fear of offending devout worshippers of one tradition or another.  Rather than teaching students about tolerance, respect, and appreciation for the varieties of religious expression, for the most part, nothing of the sort is taught.

Politicians behave equally poorly.  When French President Sarkozy banned women from wearing the head scarf in public, he double-faulted.  First he denied Muslim women’s freedom of religion as well as all women’s right to wear what they want.  Second he failed to assert the over-arching requirement of citizenship in a democracy.  Why not rule that women have the right to wear veils, but that they must show their faces when the public good requires–as when applying for driver’s permits and identity papers, answering police inquiries, or performing other such public duties?  Such acts of intellectual ineptitude on a politician’s part only inflame zealotry.

Since we are left to educate ourselves, as a start, I propose reading some of the world’s great sacred myths in which heaven is almost always envisioned as a beautiful garden where the fruit of a central tree holds knowledge of good and evil.  Human nature almost always appears as both tricky and powerful, and love and kindness are deemed paramount.  When we discover the striking similarities beneath the vast diversity, all we risk is deepening our spirituality, widening our humanity, and bolstering our respect for freedom.  Such awareness might help to dethrone power-mad hierarchs, haters, and holy war mongers.  After all, we delight in the food of many lands.  Why should we and our children not dine on Earth’s divine wisdom as well?

Beatrice Bowles, writer and storyteller, creates award-winning CDs of world mythology through her company, Harmony Hill Productions

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The San Francisco Chronicle’s Leah Garchik writes:

After the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing 15 years ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton planted the seed for Vital Voices, a nongovernmental organization that works worldwide to support “emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs.” Cissie Swig, profoundly committed to a host of global causes, political campaigns, women’s rights and the arts, is on its board. And last Monday, she invited about 30 friends, mainly women with parallel passions, to dinner at Villa Taverna to meet Vital Voices President Alyse Nelson, who described the group’s work: identifying those women, educating and training them in financial skills, marketing, communication, leadership.

This gathering wasn’t just about providing financial support. After Nelson described projects in nearly 127 countries and suggested the possibility of a Bay Area council, guests leaped in with ideas for participating. Mills College President Janet Holmgren said Mills would be excited to be “the nexus” for a Bay Area presence; Anette Harris, board member for the International Museum of Women, suggested that institution and Vital Voices might work together on a speakers’ series; retired Bishop William Swing of the United Religions Initiative said, “A lot of times religion keeps women from taking a place at the table; we would like to sit down and talk with you about that”; radio producer-writer-Woodhull Institute founder Margo Magowan talked about training women for on-air appearances; and Cissie’s daughter-in-law Darian Swig, whose passion is Human Rights Watch, discussed the importance of supporting Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and suggested joining forces on a Liberia working group.

Cissie Swig had accomplished the evening’s goal, as she expressed in a goodnight wish: “Stay connected.”

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About-Face is a San Francisco based non-profit whose mission “is to equip women and girls with tools to understand and resist harmful media messages that affect self-esteem and body image.” About-Face has received all kinds of recognition for its great work. Most recently, as you can witness all around San Francisco, teenage girls in About-Face’s programs led a project to put “static-cling” stickers on dressing room mirrors with empowering messages such as “YOU: absolutely no Photoshopping necessary.” This effort is going national and was just featured in O The Oprah Magazine.

Jennifer Berger, Exceutive Director of About-Facehttp://www.sfgate.com 

Jennifer Berger, Executive Director of About-Face, “Quit Playing Barbie” shirt available at About-Face

Jennifer Berger is the Executive Director. This is my interview with her:

What is the main challenge for About-Face right now?

There’s awareness of media’s impact on girls and women’s sense of self-worth and some notable positive examples, but not enough action to really create change. And somehow most people seem to think that sexism is over. We can hear about celebrities who admit that they have had eating disorders, or that they feel pressure about their weight or appearance, but they aren’t going so far as encouraging an improvement of the system itself. And Lane Bryant’s lingerie commercial does something positive for women of size and challenges fatphobia. But that needs to be more than a one-off campaign here and there. About-Face is leading the charge in terms of actually changing culture. Awareness is awesome: action is better.

I blogged about Lane Bryant — I was happy to see another body image on TV and shocked that network executives were so offended by real breasts that they censored that commercial, but I was not so psyched about the whole idea that larger women can be exploited on TV too! Yay! Getting women of all sizes in the Victoria’s Secret show is not a goal of mine. I don’t get the whole fat women beauty contest thing, like Mo’Nique hosted a few years ago. I don’t think that’s empowering.

I have to agree with you. This need for women (and now men) to compete against each other around beauty is so ancient but so useless right now. I would like to see us all walk around, with both men and women finding beauty in each other’s diverse shapes and sizes. Another vision is for us to simply not be so concerned about outer beauty as a culture.

I love how About-Face is action based. Instead of just criticizing and reacting, About-Face is actually doing something to create change. What are some of your projects?

Our Gallery of Offenders, where we give addresses and tips on writing productive complaint letters, is the most visited part of our web site. It’s really interesting to look at and fun to put together.

Activism is at the heart of About-Face, so our major method of creating change is our Take Action groups, where we inspire and enable teenagers to take action in their own ways. The girls come up with all of the ideas for their action, and we help them make it happen. One group created these awesome static-cling decals for fitting rooms and then slapped them up all over San Francisco. There’s a great video on our web site.

Of course, that kind of brazen activism isn’t for everyone, and we introduce the idea of media-literacy and critical analysis in classrooms all school year long. This past school year, we worked with 1,200 young women and young men in schools and we’ve seen some fantastic results.

Panasonic ad from About-Face's Gallery of WinnersPanasonic ad from About-Face’s Gallery of Winners 

About-Face was recently mentioned in O The Oprah Magazine. What do you think of Oprah’s public battles with her weight and numerous talk shows on the topic?

As we all know, Oprah has had a problem with her feelings about her weight for years and years, probably brought on by the intense media scrutiny she experienced earlier in her career. She’s a woman whose natural weight is probably on the heavier side, but she’s in the spotlight constantly, so she feels the pressure so intensely. Every time there was a fashion designer on with models, she’d make a comment about how she could never fit into those clothes. It made it OK for women everywhere to hate their bodies because Oprah did.

Last year, in a show in January 2009, I think it all came to a head when she announced on her show that she had “fallen off the wagon” as far as controlling her weight. It was like she said, “I’ve been so bad, and if you’ve been bad too, you can understand, right?” Personally, I sat on the couch and cried while watching that show. Here was the most powerful woman in our culture, arguably, saying she STILL wasn’t good enough. And the cover of her magazine showed the current Oprah standing next to the skinny Oprah. It was like she smacked herself in the face!

But in a recent show in mid-May and in her magazine, she interviewed Geneen Roth, author of the book Women, Food, and God, and seemed to have a revelatory breakthrough around weight. Oprah blew me away when she said, “What I realize when I look at that cover is that I publicly shamed myself. And in that cover, what I was saying is that the thin me deserves all the praise and the accolades. The thin me deserves to be loved, but the fat me does not…It’s your own self-loathing that does that.”

I have hope for Oprah and her own healing. I support her all the way, but I would love to see her also help shape our culture in a way that incites us to accept ourselves as we are.

Ad for Element skateboard's from About-Face's gallery of WinnersAd for Element skateboard’s from About-Face’s Gallery of Winners 

What do you think about Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity campaign?

Yeah, I’m glad you asked that, because I worry that my answer to the previous question sounds like I think health is not important. The concerns around the “obesity epidemic” are around health, and we are concerned about health, too. But physical health only comes from mental health. Self-acceptance leads to healthier behaviors, because you love yourself more and treat yourself with respect.

Our message is to encourage girls and women to see themselves from the inside out, not from the outside in. That is, eat and exercise healthily because you have respect for yourself and your body, not because you want to get thin or avoid being fat.

Did you see, a few weeks ago, the Sunday New York Times cover story on obese moms delivering unhealthy babies? I was thinking: that’s just what overweight women need to hear– you’re bad moms too!

I’m not an expert on OB/GYN issues, but when we see a statement like this, from the New York Times article, we should pick it apart and be fully informed:

“And medical evidence suggests that obesity might be contributing to record-high rates of Caesarean sections and leading to more birth defects and deaths for mothers and babies.”

And unfortunately, there could be some avoidance of fat women happening among doctors. I have heard more than one OB/GYN say to me directly that they don’t want to deal with an obese woman. Could the doctors be deciding to do C-sections because they don’t want to “deal” with a woman’s body that is unwieldy for the medical staff? That’s just a guess on my part, but my point is that we need to look at all sides of this issue and really challenge our own beliefs.

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This is a story by my six year old daughter. She just started blogging.

Baby Animals

Once upon a time, there was a forest. All animals lived in it: jaguars, cheetahs, birds, and all kinds of stuff.

One day a hunter came.

(1) Hunters kill animals.
(2) They kill whales
(3) They love to kill birds.
(4) They’re not nice to people.
(5) Sarah Palin is a hunter. She thinks it is OK to kill animals. Her partner, John McCain, agreed.

The hunters left the forest. All the animals were free. They lived happily ever after.

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