Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world...

...Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead was so right and today is just another example of how right she was. If you follow any feminist groups on Twitter then you've heard about the #FBrape campaign. Let me break it down for you...

Basically there are a bunch of A-holes on Facebook creating groups or posting memes and pictures celebrating and promoting violence against women. Rape, domestic violence, you name it, it's out there  either in the form of a "joke" (they must have missed school the day they explained what a joke is) or flat out hate speech toward women. Complaints had been made to Facebook and they would respond with some reference to freedom of expression and speech. We all love and appreciate our right to free speech, but when it promotes violence against anyone is when we need to draw the line.

So, since Facebook wasn't responding to complaints filed by following their rules a group of feminists took things into their own hands and tried a different attention getting approach. Since the all-mighty dollar is what tends to get companies' attention in our society WAM! (Women, Action & the Media) and Everyday Sexism along with other feminist groups and individuals brought their concerns to companies advertising on Facebook. Ingenious idea! No company wants to be associated with such violence and hate speech (well, the good companies anyway), right?

First they wrote an open letter to Facebook then proceeded to take screenshots of advertisements from various companies that popped up alongside these offensive pictures on Facebook and sent them to those companies via Twitter. The companies were asked things like:

Screenshot linked here:

Screenshot linked here:

This went on for a week with 15 companies pulling their ads before Facebook responded with this post. Victory! Not only are they going to review their current guidelines and update them to include the discrimination that women face, give their complaint reviewers better training, and work with members from some of the groups spearheading this campaign to collaborate on best practices for responding to this type of hate speech, but they're also going to make the creators of the hateful content accountable! Evidently they've started this last piece already. Those who originally post these memes or pictures promoting or celebrating violence against women will have to put their name with it so people can respond directly to them. Reportedly this has already deterred some people from posting such things.

I am inspired by the strength and ingenuity of feminists (both female and male) in the social media world who have taken Facebook to task. What's even more awesome is that now that the Library of Congress is archiving tweets this whole movement/process/victory will forever be documented in our history! Wouldn't it be great if the LOC would highlight in a special entry this campaign and its accomplishments in their archives? One day maybe they'll teach that in the history books!

So, when you're feeling down and thinking that change is impossible, remember Margaret Mead's words and the tweets of feminists from this campaign. You too can make a difference!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Who run the world? Girls!"

This past weekend I presented a workshop for the Old Dominion University Community Development Corporation Conference for Girls and Young Women. This is the 5th year of the Conference and the second time I've presented a workshop for it. Last time I talked about body image and the media, something I'm very passionate about bringing awareness to.

This year I wanted to focus on bullying between girls. There has been so much in the news about fighting between girls and kids hurting themselves or others because they were bullied. I called my workshop "Girlfriends" and focused on how to be a great friend instead of "don't bully". You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, right?

I talked to two groups of girls about how to help your friend have positive body image. I encouraged them to tell their friends things that they like about them that are not related to how they look. They were really engaged and gave lots of examples of what they liked about their friends (their good attitude, their humor, they're there for them when they need them, etc...) I suggested that by focusing on the positive things not related to their appearance their friend would learn to value themselves outside of how they look. We also talked about how women and girls are portrayed in the magazines and TV and how that focus makes us feel like we aren't beautiful or good enough.  Some of them didn't know about Photoshop and were pretty surprised that the models don't even look like that in real life.

By helping their friend focus on the positives and not on their looks, I suggested that their true friends would do the same for them. This would help them weed through the not so good friends who made them feel bad about themselves. You could see that they were really excited to try this out with their friends. One group of three were all best friends and I heard them whisper things they liked about each other while I was talking. I let that one slide because it was so sweet. :-)

I introduced them to Operation Beautiful and had them make their own sticky notes. They really loved this. Everybody likes arts and crafts! I gave them just a few examples and they ran with it. Instead of making just one they made 4 or 5 each because they were so excited about the idea. This is one of my favorite things to talk to people about. It's so inspiring and easy to do! (Awesome idea Caitlin!) I told them about how when this was done at ODU with the college students someone posted a photo on
Instagram of one of the sticky notes they were handed with the caption "this instantly made my day". They were excited that they could make a difference this way.

I also showed them the trailer for the Finding Kind documentary. In the clip it talked about how so many girls experience being picked on by another girl and how much it really hurts. The room got very quiet and I could tell that some if not all fo them had experienced this. I encouraged them to talk to their parents or caregivers, guidance counselors or teachers at school so they could get help in addition to talking it out with their friends. (Great idea Lauren & Molly!)

I asked them if they were on Facebook and all of them raised their hands. The age range was 10-13 and they're all on Facebook! I don't know why that surprised me. LOL Anyway, we talked about the quality of friends not the quantity, especially when it comes to Facebook. You can have 400 friends on Facebook but only a handful of them are usually your good friends. We discussed how to stay safe online (blocking people, not sharing too much information and upping their privacy settings) and how social media is a place where a lot of girls get bullied these days. I encouraged them to only post positive things about each other and they will see how their real friends will do the same for them.

I did mention to them how holding those feelings of being bullied inside can cause some people to hurt themselves or others and that is why they need to get help. Part of being a good friend is also letting an adult know if your friend is being bullied. I think with any difficult topic like bullying it's easier to think about getting help for a friend than for yourself. I told them that they certainly wouldn't want anyone to bully their friend so why would the let someone do it to themselves.

We talked about encouraging our friends to pursue their dreams, help them identify potential barriers to reaching their goals and helping them find ways around those barriers. I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up and got a diverse range of answers: engineer, cosmetologist, track star, lawyer, doctor, and nail technician. I introduced them to Girls Can't What? and talked about how women and girls are still sometimes discouraged from pursing their dreams in certain fields because they are female but to not listen to the haters and go after what they want in life. They loved this too, especially that they could get shirts and bags and things with the logo showing girls doing the things they are doing or want to do. (Great idea Gretchen! Not me, by the way, another Gretchen.)

We closed by making friendship cards for their best friends. They were to tell their friend everything they liked about being their friend that had nothing to do with their looks or popularity. They really got into this too. There was this group of three girls who were best friends and it was heartwarming to watch them exchange and read their cards.

It went really well and I got hugs at the end! I love hugs but I was totally not expecting them. Doing this workshop was so fulfilling for me. I could tell not only by their body language but also from their comments how all the things we talked about really hit home for them. I felt like I might have made a difference in some of their lives and for me that is reaching my dream. I want all girls to feel like there's nothing stopping them from being who they want to be, just like how I felt when I was growing up thanks to my super awesome mom and encouraging dad. I also want them to treat each other with kindness because there is already so many barriers to their success that we don't need to hold each other down. So, if you have any girls in your life, encourage their dreams and tell them how awesome they are, not just beautiful.

Monday, May 13, 2013

You Can't Touch This!

So recently I read an article on The Good Men Project about how to talk to your kids about sex/consent from age 1-21. It sounds scary and everyone I've told about this the initial facial expression is usually "Wha? Are you kidding me?" Listen, they're not promoting telling your kids what goes where and how to please your partner. That would be inappropriate  These are good guys. The idea is to start out talking to your kids about consent. This is crucial. I work on a college campus and I know the issues students have with consent. I see the results of not understanding that a person cannot give consent if they're passed out drunk.

Anyway, since my oldest is about to turn 4 on Wednesday (Happy Birthday Jackson!) I figured if the opportunity arose I would start the conversation. Here's is what the article said for his age:

"4. Teach your kids that “no” and “stop” are important words and should be honored. One way to explain this may be, “Sarah said ‘no’, and when we hear ‘no’ we always stop what we’re doing immediately. No matter what.”
Also teach your child that his or her “no’s” are to be honored. Explain that just like we always stop doing something when someone says “no”, that our friends need to always stop when we say “no”, too.  If a friend doesn't stop when we say “no,” then we need to think about whether or not we feel good, and safe, playing with them. If not, it’s okay to choose other friends.
If you feel you must intervene, do so. Be kind, and explain to the other child how important “no” is. Your child will internalize how important it is both for himself and others."

The next day I was giving Jackson his bath and the opportunity presented itself. I was playing Pandora on shuffle and MC Hammer's "You Can't Touch This" came on. He'd heard this song and we'd danced to it before. It clicked that this song would help me talk to him about consent. Recently he didn't want me to wash his penis because he said it tickled so I told him he was not in charge of keeping it clean and handed him the washcloth. He was excited about having this responsibility so I figured he'd be open to the rest of the conversation. Here's how it went down:

Me: "You know, this song is a good way for you to learn something new."

Him: What's that?

Me: Remember how I said that Mommy wasn't going to wash your "pee pee" for you anymore? Well, no one but you should touch your "pee pee". So if anyone every tries to touch you there, you can say "Stop! You can't touch this!"

Him: Yeah, and then I can just dance out of the room!

LOL! I was totally not expecting that reaction from him. I had to stop from laughing too much so he wouldn't think what I was saying was a joke. I wanted to roll on the floor laughing though because I could just see him trying to dance like MC Hammer out of a room.

I also talked to him about what "stop" meant and how when Mommy or Daddy telling him to stop doing something then he should stop right away and he should expect the same thing when he tells someone to stop. 

So, it went well and I'm optimistic that our future conversations will go as well. My next challenge for myself and my husband....using the correct terms. No more "pee pee" or "wee wee". It's a penis. And if I can talk to students about vaginas, I should be able to use the word penis when educating my son about his body.

In other news, he has just this week learned to stand up to pee all by himself! It's the little victories...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Girl Code: "Slut"

Today I stumbled upon the MTV show "Girl Code". I like this show. There are some things that either I don't agree with or just don't apply to me (like the segment on makeup) but I love the honesty and humor of these women. They're sassy!

The episode I watched had a segment on "Slut" and it got me thinking about the UnSlut Project that I also just recently became aware of. Contrary to popular belief, women like sex too and should be free to have consensual sex with whoever they want, whenever they want and not feel ashamed. It's 2013 so let's evolve and get rid of the stereotype that women who have lots of sex are bad while guys who have lots of sex are studs. Who do they think these "studs" are having sex with? (Unless they're homosexual of course.)

In my Language, Gender and Power class as an undergrad our teacher asked us to list all the names for guys who have a lot of sex and also a list for women who do the same. The result? All the names for these guys were positive and all the names for these women were negative. Not cool.

This week is Clitoris Awareness Week and this very educational video tells us the fact that the clitoris' only function is for pleasure. Men don't have this. What does that tell you? We've been duped! Society has been trying to oppress women's sexual pleasure because it's so powerful. Women's bodies are powerful and that power has for many women been untapped because we're distracted by all the things we're told we're supposed to be or ways we're supposed to look to fit in or be liked.

I say open your eyes girls! Get to know your bodies and what makes you tick. Speak up for your own pleasure when you're with a partner. You, and they, will be so much happier for it.

P.S. Think twice before you call another girl a slut as an insult. Girls just wanna have fun, right? Instead how about saying "Yo go girl!". Yes, it's corny/cliche, but unless they're hurting you, remember that they have feelings too.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


I had lunch with a friend this week that gave me a different perspective on "appearance". Before I go further, you need to know a few things about me so you will better understand the context for this conversation.

I grew up in the country in a small town that had about 600 people. There were farms all around and the only traffic jams we would have would be during harvesting or planting time when the humongous tractors would drive 5 mph down the main road. I spent all my time outside playing in the woods with my yellow lab following closely behind. I would go barefoot the majority of the time and stomp through mud puddles.

For me, clothes were just something to cover up the necessary "private" parts but other than that were for comfort and functionality. I wore baggy t-shirts and jeans or shorts. I would only get "nice" clothes for special occasions or at the beginning of the school year. My parents mostly picked those out for me. I would have stuck with the t-shirts and jeans otherwise. I was required to wear a dress to church every Sunday until about high school when I discovered I could wear dress slacks instead. I didn't hate clothes, but I didn't care much about them either. Its not like I want to walk around naked, I just didn't focus a lot on how clothes make me appear to others.

At some point, probably at the end of middle school when I had my first date, I started to feel the pressure to "dress up". I had probably felt some of it before that but basically didn't give a rat's ass. Maybe it was puberty and the hormones that made me give in a little at first. Maybe it was all of a sudden having to very close best friends who were testing out makeup and styling their clothes. It was never said by anyone that I had to dress a certain way. It was sort of implied by the disapproving stares or the indirect conversations around me. No one picked on me for how I dressed. I was friends with or nice to everyone and also kind of a tomboy so they either liked me or left me alone.

This week my 10 month old pulled all our DVDs and picture albums out of the cabinet. My mom who was keeping them at the time was able to put all of it back except for one album that just wouldn't fit. I found it when I got home and flipped through it. I was amused at the way my parents dressed me (and my bi-level/mullet) when I was little. It was the 80's so there was some ridiculous stuff going on fashion wise. (BTW, who's idea was it to bring that style back?!)

I was and still do feel just fine about how I dressed myself growing up. I dressed for me, not for someone else. When I was told to dress "nice"by someone else, I was the most uncomfortable. Somewhere along the way it because something I had to do in order to get respect from others. It was probably when I got my first job. Business casual was the requirement for most of my jobs. It was only when I interned at the paper mill that I got to wear my t-shirt and jeans. I was more comfortable working in the mill in my bright orange t-shirt and jeans where there was possible danger all around than walking around in my "dressy" clothes asking people if they needed help finding something.

Even today, I am most comfortable (and more productive) on casual Fridays when I get to wear jeans than the rest of the week in my business casual outfits. Even the word has a different meaning for me. I'd rather wear a "get-up" than an "outfit". "Get-ups" were what my mom would call whatever it was that I would throw on in the morning to head outside to play. When I wear "get-ups" it's what I'm going to do that's important. When I have to wear "outfits" it's my appearance that's important. This is where I have an issue.

No one has said anything to me, but I've made a few observations over the years. I mostly wear black pants, black flats, and some sort of plain color shirt. I didn't realize until recently that what I was doing was my own version of a get-up/outfit. Wearing "dressy" enough clothes so I fit in, but not so much that draws attention to myself. For me it's about the work that I'm doing that I'm most concerned with because what I'm doing is something that I'm passionate about. It's not because I don't care about myself that I dress the way I do. In fact, it's because I care more about myself than what anyone else thinks of my appearance that I dress the way I do. This does not mean that I think everyone should dress this way. I can appreciate a cool outfit that you've put together. I just don't feel the need to point it out because your appearance is not what matters to me. I care about what you have to say and what's in your heart. However, at the same time I understand that we are all a product of our society and society states that we should comment on women's appearance because obviously it's what gives them value. I understand that this is something that even the most confident of feminists may struggle with.

So back to lunch with my friend... We were talking about how we dress being about how we "present" ourselves. I was struggling to explain to her that it is my words and actions that I use to "present" myself, not the clothes I wear. I understand that because of our society people will make certain assumptions about me because of the clothes I wear. I can't go around worrying about what other people think because even if I tried my hardest to go with current fashion trends, you can't change people's perceptions to be what you want them to be.  I just have to do me. And that is what I will do. And you know what, you can do you too. Whatever you are most comfortable in, go with it. If you are most comfortable wearing the latest trends and shoes that when you take them off your feet throb, go right ahead. You will not hear any judgement from me. We are all on our own journeys and, not to sound selfish, I am only concerned about my journey. I am certainly happy to talk with you about your journey and the things you like and think. However, I'm not going to try to convince you to follow my same path or dress the same as me, so please don't try to do that to me and we'll be cool. Peace. :-)