Live Web Chat Today: The State of Women In the Workplace

Whether you’re a working mother or a recent college graduate looking for her first break, the way women are treated, compensated and represented in the workplace matters to you. Today, the White House Council on Women and Girls will host a live web chat on the topic at 4:45 EDT (1:45 PST). View it live on Yahoo! Shine or at the White House website. The main topic of the web chat will be women, employment, education, and how to create workplace flexibility.

As a new mom about to head back to work full time, the topic sure strikes a nerve. I left my previous job not just for a new, better opportunity, but because of its sucky maternity leave/working-mother policies (and this was a publishing company owned and run by women!) We have a long way to go before women (working mothers especially) are adequately valued for their contributions to industry and society. Here’s hoping this chat inspires progress. I hope you tune in. I then encourage you to come back here to chat about it, or visit us at @thesexyfeminist (moms can find me at @femimommy) to discuss.

5 Steps to a More Feminist Lifestyle…

… And You’re Probably Already Taking Them

Most of our readers have a clear feminist identity already—snaps to you and your participation in the movement! But not every feminist is born that way. It took me till my early thirties to understand my own brand of feminism and what it means to my every day life. Each woman’s journey to that understanding is different. And the path isn’t necessarily paved with protest marches, feminist theory books or daily blogging on the subject, as much as we love those.

The Sexy Feminist (that’s me and Jennifer Armstrong) is writing a book on new feminism (“The Feminist Bombshell” is slated for early 2012) to help demystify it for the modern woman. One of our goals is to show women how feminist they already are. Here are five life decisions with serious feminist implications you may not have considered, but may have already made:

Going Vegetarian: Altering your diet even a little bit—be it eschewing just red meat, buying only organic/cage-free poultry and dairy or going full vegan—is a major decision that affects more than your colon. It’s easy to toss off “for health reasons” as the answer to the prying questions about your brand of vegetarianism, but there’s a deeper answer—a recent study argues a strong feminist case that’s fascinating. Here are a few more:

  • You know cow farts are more than just stinky. In fact, the methane gas from cows is one of the primary sources of global warming and it’s our mass consumption of them that’s led to a bovine overpopulation and a depleting ozone layer.
  • You love chicken, but care where it comes from. Most chickens are farmed in some of the most inhumane conditions imaginable—starved of light and fresh air, forced to live in their own feces and contained in brutally tight quarters.
  • You buy organic as much as possible. This supports farms that care about the environment, your health and (more likely than mass chains) fair working conditions for its employees.
  • Reading up on the companies/farms you support can help guarantee a conscious decision with every bite.

Shopping Consciously: Where you buy your designer denim and underwear matters.

  • You’re either hooked on American Apparel T-shirts no matter what or you know why it’s a feminist decision not to shop there. Two words: sexual harassment. Okay, seven more: promoting over sexualized, virginal women as the ideal.
  • When you heard that H&M throws away its overstock rather than donating or recycling it, you got sorta grossed out and went to Forever 21 for your cheap trends instead.
  • You buy brands such as Joe’s Jeans and Stella McCartney because they’re made fabulously, but they’re also made with consciousness.
  • You know that buying vintage, used or upcycling your own clothes does more for the world than save you a few bucks—though that’s nice too.

Idolizing the Right Women: Feminist icons are made not born. Sure, you should love Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Jessica Valenti, but you can follow fierce feminists in the pages of US Weekly too.

  • Consider why you’re a Beyoncé devotee. Is it only the beats or her sheer determination to kill it in anything she tries?
  • Why are you Team Christina instead of Team Britney? Could it be because Christina is a working mother, philanthropist and outspoken sex-positive feminist (you can call it “girl power,” but it means the same thing). Personal note: Here’s hoping Britney has her own feminist awakening one of these days soon …
  • Is “30 Rock” your favorite TV show for Alec Baldwin (we wouldn’t blame you) or Tina Fey—no matter your answer, you’re rooting for one of the most feminist TV shows ever. Here are 10 more.
  • Do you watch ABC or CBS evening news because that’s just what channel you were last on or because Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer are doing the job previously exclusively held by men?

Consuming News from Trusted Sources: You Tweet, Facebook and text like the rest of us, but when it comes to finding out what’s going on in the world, you look to the (sadly, few) reputable, journalistic outlets for your information.

  • Fox News pisses you off; MSNBC kinda does too.
  • A black-and-white, physical newspaper comes to your home; you read it.
  • Gawker is merely voyeuristic entertainment, not information source.
  • You seek out blogs and voices that challenge the status quo (thanks for that!).

Using Birth Control: No matter your reasons or method, taking charge of your own reproductive system—and its health—is one of the rights feminism was founded upon.

  • You always carry condoms for those “oops, I forgot, babe” moments guys can sometimes have.
  • You see your gynecologist at least once a year, perform self breast exams and read up on the latest breakthroughs in women’s health.
  • You support sex education in schools.
  • You’re one of the 100 million women on the pill and you say a little prayer for it every day.
  • You’re a mom because you wanted to be one.

5 Feminist TV Shows to Watch Right Now

We talked feminist TV shows just three months ago, but the networks are throwing new shows at us so fast these days, that we’ve got some new mentions (as well as old favorites) currently making our Top 5:

1. Body of Proof: In ABC’s new straight-up procedural, Dana Delany plays a neurosurgeon-turned-medical-examiner who helps solve murders. But, look at that, this time a woman gets to be the freakishly brilliant, quirkily abrasive one at the center of a broadcast network show solving the crimes! (Thanks, TNT and other cable channels, for pioneering that mind-blowing idea with the likes of The Closer.) Extra points for employing the always-brilliant Delany and giving her character a very real mommy complex: She’s estranged from her preteen daughter after years of dedicating herself to neurosurgery, and awkwardly trying to rebuild that relationship.

2. Game of Thrones: HBO’s is by far the best of the upcoming epic swords-and-sandals series you’ve undoubtedly seen advertised everywhere (along with Starz’ Camelot and Showtime’s The Borgias). I’m not normally into this kind of thing — it’s based on George R. R. Martin’s elaborate fantasy book series filled with about 3 trillion characters, mythical lands, mythical creatures, people with names like Eddard, and a big old war for the crown. (I didn’t even like Lord of the Rings. Sorry.) But the beauty of Game is in the layers — the multi-dimensional characters (no one’s 100-percent good or evil, though some come close on the evil side), the soapy machinations, the tons of sex. It’s also, surprisingly, in the female characters. Martin’s world is, alas, as sexist as medieval England (it matches the costumes), but these ladies are fighting it at every turn, from the conniving Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) to the bent-on-revenge Lady Catelynn Stark (Michelle Fairley).

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SF Talking Points: Funny Women Taking Things Into Their Own Hands, A Gay, Feminist Republican Is Running For President

New Women’s Comedy Site Launches: A woman’s version of male-slanted humor sites like Funny or Die and CollegeHumor has arrived! In the midst of the debate over why women represent such a small population of the comedy world comes Comediva, hoping to cater to the different sense of humor that women have compared to men. Erika Cervantes, founder of Comediva, writes in her opening post:

“What makes up a girl’s sense of humor is complex and varies from lady to lady, so it deserves to be explored further in a future column.  However, at the risk of making sweeping generalizations, I did learn a few reasons why girls are just different from boys when it comes to funny:

-    Boys use humor to one-up each other.  Girls use humor to bond with each other.
-    Despite our abuse of the phrase LOL, it’s harder to make girls laugh out loud than boys.
-    Girls enjoy irony, wordplay, and subtlety, and favor storytelling over joke-telling.”

Oh, it’s not that, “women, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is”, as Christopher Hitchens claimed in his then old-fashioned, now antiquated (but still widely referenced) argument that women aren’t funny? Or because, “For some reason, women do not find their own physical decay and absurdity to be so riotously amusing, which is why we admire Lucille Ball and Helen Fielding, who do see the funny side of it,” even though Lucille Ball, though extremely funny on camera, didn’t actually write her own stuff? Not sure who Hitchens was referring to in that first statement, or why he was excluding the many contemporary female comedians who “find their own physical decay and absurdity” amusing (see: here and here) but it’s not as though that’s the only place where humor exists. [Read more...]

A Dating Site That Puts Women in Charge: Why It's Not as Feminist as It Sounds

A new online dating site allows women to, essentially, “shop” for men, as recently reported. launched in France in 2007, aiming to cut down on the creepiness that online dating can engender for some women, and now it’s come to the United States. Basically, it works like this: You sign up and fill out a brief profile, including your “shopping list” of desired attributes in a mate. Pretty standard Internet dating stuff, with one caveat: A guy can only approach you if you’ve put him in your “cart.” (And yes, it’s called a cart, and it works just like online shopping.) You can search for men based on age, social type (intellectual, executive, bohemian), and style (chic, eccentric, rocker).

It’s slick and clever, to be sure. The site looks great, graphically, even if it does resemble a very pink banquette. (We get it! It’s for ladies!) The logo — a little stick man falling into a stick woman’s shopping cart — is cute. The interface is witty: “bonus pack” options on searches include “celeb look-alike” and “rich and dying.” There’s a feature board of “daily specials” and a running tab of “adoptions made.” The concept behind AdoptAGuy also adds up scientifically. Women are proven to be the choosier gender, so it makes sense, biologically, to put them in charge from the start. This all adds up to a brilliant marketing angle in an increasingly crowded online dating marketplace. If there’s one way to attract female customers, it’s to put them in charge; if there’s one way to attract male customers, it’s to provide a lot of women. See Ladies’ Night specials for proof.

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SF Talking Points: Women and Same-Sex Experimentation, Can A Wal-Mart Fashion Blog Empower Women?

College Not So Much A Place Of Same-Sex Experimentation: A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the “LUG” (lesbian until graduation) phenomenon is not as common as popular perception might suggest. Out of 13,500 responses, 10% of women ages 22 to 44 with a bachelor’s degree said that they’d had same-sex experience — compared with 15% of women with no high school diploma. And of the total 13% of women who reported having had same-sex experience, only 1% identify as lesbians, and 4% as bisexual. What could explain this? Quotes selected by the NYTimes suggest that it is because it’s erotically thrilling for people, especially young men, to imagine college women having sex, and the representation of college in the media bolsters this. Or perhaps it could be because women in college are just more vocal about their experimentation and are “out to prove something”, as opposed to high school dropouts, who may simply have sexual relations with women because they are living in “surroundings with few desirable and available male partners.”

It’s not surprising that this stereotype has been turned over on its head. Quite a few TV shows and movies about college life are made for young men who think it’s hot for girls to make out on top of beer-drenched tables — because that’s why women go to college, right? — but that’s obviously not an accurate representation of all college girls. [Read more...]

SF Talking Points: Magazines That Lower Our Self-Esteem, Florida's War On Women

Why People Keep Reading Magazines That Make Them Feel Bad About Themselves: A new study has shown that people aren’t necessarily just plain masochists because they’re drawn to beauty and fitness magazines with thinner/more muscular models on the cover. Indeed, in the experiment conducted by Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, associate professor of communication at Ohio State University, participants would only dwell on pictures of fit models if the content beside the pictures was comprised of tips on how to improve their own bodies. So not only do magazines pop our already pretty flaccid self-esteem balloons without remorse, they sneakily add insult to injury by suggesting that they hold, somewhere within their hundreds of glossy pages, the secrets to attaining that Hollywood bod on the cover — in 5 easy steps! When really, it’s impossible, because not only do they not know who they are promising “sexy sculpted legs in 10 minutes” to, the ideal body on the cover was photoshopped.

Speaking Of Photoshop, First Unretouched Makeup Ad Released: Make Up For Ever put together an ad with a super thin, pretty, blonde and unblemished model without taking the final step of perfecting perfection with Photoshop. They just used professional lighting, professional makeup artists, professional everything, and had an impossibly flawless-looking girl wear the makeup. Hooray? I hate to be skeptical of progress, even if the baby steps made were terribly small. And I suppose we can’t expect them to pull an average lady off the street and tell her to do her makeup herself with Make Up For Ever and then take a picture of it  (which would actually probably convince me to buy the product, though I don’t know about anyone else). But the “progress” we are getting doesn’t really feel like progress at all. As Jos over at Feministing writes, “In fact, pointing out the ad wasn’t retouched serves to make this unattainable idea of beauty seem more real.” And it seems more like a gimmick than something that Make Up For Ever is actually behind.

Florida’s Recent Anti-Woman Offenses: Republicans in the Sunshine State are trying to pass a record 18 bills that attack abortion rights — including, but not limited to, a requirement for women to have an ultrasound, that they must pay for themselves, before getting an abortion. Another bill proposes getting rid of federal funding for abortions except in cases that threaten the mother’s life. Tough luck for victims of incest or rape.

Also in Florida, a mailer was sent out reviling mayoral candidate Rose Ferlita for being “Unmarried. Unsure. Unelectable,” and describing her as “an unmarried woman with a suspect commitment to family values,” while her opponent is a “dedicated family man with two children.” Since when do spouses and children have anything to do with one’s abilities as a politician?! Julie at BUST sums it up: “The simple misogynistic logic being: woman with career goals = unmarried ballbreaker = lesbian = unfit for office.” I mean, who knows if Ferlita even is a lesbian? Maybe she just didn’t want to get married! (And if she is, I’d like to point to female, lesbian Prime Minister of Iceland Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir who is doing a pretty damn good job over there — much better than many of the “family men” around the world.) Strangely, Ferlita is a Republican candidate and the organization that sent out the mailer has been linked to Democratic candidate Scott Maddox; it seems that Democrats were trying to reach Republicans on their level by using the rhetoric they usually use against Democratic candidates. In other news, politics suck.

Why Saving NPR Is a Feminist Issue

The House GOP is continuing its move to completely strip National Public Radio of its federal funding. Republican congressman Doug Lamborn has introduced a bill that gives public stations the right to take government funds, as long as they don’t buy programs from NPR. Tricky move, Doug. Give cash-strapped nonprofit media a much-needed lifeline, but censor the way they use it.

As anyone knows, public media can’t survive without this type of support. It may be listeners like you who make a difference, but you don’t exactly have the roughly $150 million these days to make up for it, do you?

If the bill passes it’s bad news for NPR as we know it, which means potentially losing programming such as “Latino USA,” “Fresh Air,” “Talk of the Nation” and “This American Life,” which spend considerable time showcasing the stories of minorities, women and the gay community. It’s programming you won’t hear on other networks and it needs to be preserved. In the age of extremist media—when the Glenn Becks of the world get all the attention (and sound bites)—we need it more than ever.

The backlash against NPR came after a media sting in which former NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller criticizes members of the Tea Party. He called them unintelligent, extreme and racist—all stones that have already been cast at the group and, I mean, come on, have been proven to be true just a few times. I know, one shouldn’t judge an entire group based on a few radical members, especially if one represents a media network. But isn’t that the norm these days—for better or worse? On the left, John Stewart has his usual marks on “The Daily Show,” as does Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow. Listen to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck and you’ll hear the same liberal punching bags criticized time and time again for being socialists—or worse. Beck draws parallels between the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES and Hitler all the time, but where is the Bill to regulate privately owned media like Fox News? Apparently, only when precious Tea Partiers are criticized does Congress get involved.

The Right’s undying defense against this facet of its constituency is so hypocritical its hysterical—how can you say you support this group of mostly working-class Americans and still staunchly defend tax breaks for the super-rich? But I digress…

Preserving the independent voices of our media is so crucial to keeping social justice discourse in the public consciousness and—more importantly—protecting free speech.

The House is reviewing the bill today in an “emergency” session and taking it to the floor for a vote on Thursday. Take action by contacting your representative and telling them what you think.

Having It All: Myth or Reality?

As I sit down to write this, my infant son is strapped to my chest, snoozing (the miracles of a Moby wrap). I look at the clock, knowing I may only have 15 minutes, 20 if I’m lucky. And that’s how my day breaks down: My baby takes all my attention for feeding, changing, playing and holding, save for a few short naps that last on average about 20 minutes. These tiny windows of time present a Sophie’s Choice of needs: Do I shower or eat? Can I glance at my emails, write a blog for my website or pay a bill? Dare I take a catnap? And, yes, I only get to pick one.

I knew this would be my life when I signed up for Mommyhood. And my son deserves—and gets—to prioritize my time and attention. He’s new to this world and he needs all of me right now. But I can’t help but want me for myself too. I miss the ability to make decisions on a whim and spend most of my day doing, well, whatever the hell I want. I’ve been at this for only a few weeks now, and already I’m worrying about the reality most new mothers face: Returning to work full time (not to mention running a website and writing a book) and balancing a career and a family (hi, husband, remember me?).

Success at all of this two is dubbed “having it all,” and women are constantly told they just can’t do it. Whether it’s the notion that successful, educated women are too intimidating to snag a man (and therefore produce a child) or the expectation that mothers can’t also be career women and keep their family in tact, we’ve been told for decades that it’s an either/or decision, never both. Of course I raise my nose—and a certain finger—at that notion, but it’s not a total farce.

Barbara Walters famously declared that having it all is impossible for a working woman. She’s written extensively about her decision to neglect her daughter in pursuit of her broadcasting career. Stevie Nicks and Oprah Winfrey have echoed this sentiment on many occasions, claiming they’d never have reached superstardom if they had children. And I believe them. To be a rock star, one of the most powerful women in media or, well, Oprah, it takes 100 percent of a person’s time, even more if you’re a woman going against the male-dominated grain.

But what if you’re not trying to be Oprah or Barbara Walters? Can a slightly less super woman have it all these days?

Just one seat over from Walters on “The View” sits Elisabeth Hasselbeck. She’s a woman of my generation with three kids, an intact marriage, a demanding career and enough focus and energy to maintain her ridiculously fit physique and show up at conservative rallies to say things that infuriate me. I don’t agree with the woman’s political beliefs, but I admire the hell out of the way she’s making it all work.

Of course she has access to help most of us can’t afford—nannies, chefs, personal trainers and the like—but she’s a good representation of how times have changed for working mothers (though affordable, dependable child care is still the most essential–and hard to find–component of making this work). And then there’s Tina Fey—who falls somewhere between Hasselbeck and Oprah on the super-success scale. Fey, a personal hero, is a mom, a mogul and an activist feminist. She discusses the “juggle” in her book, “Bossypants.” She declares that the rudest question you can ask a woman isn’t “how much do you weigh?” or “how old are you?” but “how do you juggle it all,” followed by, “are you going to have more kids?”

Fey takes offense because the question “how do you do it?” implies that it’s out of the ordinary or that there must be some secret to a woman’s success at the juggle—or perhaps they’re just prodding for proof of failure.

In the book (get it), Fey weighs the decision to have a second child. She’s torn between her work (which is more than just showbiz fun; she’s deliberately helping advance the industry for women) and another kid. And at the end of the day, there is no clear answer: “I can’t possibly take time off for a second baby, unless I do, in which case that is nobody’s business and I’ll never regret it for a moment unless it ruins my life.”

And there you have it. There’s no answer to whether or not having children is a good or a bad thing for a career—and even if mastering the two is even possible (Fey is pregnant with her second child, to which I say: yay, Tina!). But I also believe that we can have it all—at least our version of it. It takes making deliberate choices and reaching reasonable compromise with ourselves.

As I sit here finishing this blog post during a separate 15-minute window a day later (compromise #1: understand some things will take longer than usual) I’m thrilled with the peace and quiet to work alone (compromise #2: daddy watches baby on his day off so mommy can work). But I also feel guilty. I haven’t even left the house for a full day yet, but even a little time away from the little person who physically needs me hurts. Having it all is hard.

I don’t yet know how successful my attempt at juggling will be and whether my “all” will be achieved, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

What's So Great About Happiness?

As we celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day this week, there was a lot of retreading over the age-old question: Has feminism made us happier? So, so many people think they’re quite clever by telling us: No! It has not! It has, in fact, ruined everything! Phyllis Schlafly and her niece, Suzanne Venker, wrote The Flipside of Feminism to tell us this in many, many pages, over and over again. Venker states baldly, “Feminism has sabotaged women’s happiness,” while the book goes on to detail the many ways the women’s movement has ruined everything: It gave most families two incomes, thus making us want more money and more stuff. (Definitely feminism’s fault, not mass consumerism or anything.) It emasculates men. (Poor, poor dears.) And most of all, it apparently screws up sex in all kinds of confusing ways.

See, men want marriage and kids more than ever, while we women want to maintain our independence longer, Shlafly and Venker tell us. Except we apparently also don’t want to have enough sex: “Sex is a problem, too. More and more wives today say they’re too tired for sex. …Naturally, this poses a problem for husbands, who are rarely too tired for sex. Sex is a man’s favorite past time, and the wives who are too tired to have it are often resentful of this fact. If change is going to come, it will have to come from women—they are the ones who changed the natural order of things. Moreover, men aren’t the ones who kvetch about their place in the world—not because they have it so great, contrary to feminist dogma, but because it’s not in their nature. Men tend to go along with whatever women say they need.” Except, of course, we also want to have too much sex, because men are getting it somewhere, which is making them not want to get married, which is how feminism is apparently ruining marriage (which is sad because traditional marriage is always such a treat). Except, of course, as we learned earlier in this paragraph, there are men who do want marriage, who are seeking it and begging us for it while we selfishly and stubbornly maintain our independence.

In any case, it seems we’re caught in some kind of vicious (and nonsensical) cycle of unhappiness. That, dear ones, is the point here. We’re unhappy because men won’t commit, and because some of them want to commit; because we want easy sex, and because we’re too tired for sex. Know what’s weirdest of all about this? I agree. With all of it, in all of its nonsensical glory. Here’s why: It’s true, I’ve been frustrated by noncommittal men in my life; I’ve also run away from men who wanted to commit to me. I have wanted easy sex, and I have been too tired for sex, and I have even wanted easy sex sometimes because I was too tired for complicated sex. Oh, life, you vexing vixen, you! And the main reason for all of this complexity in my life is, in fact, feminism.

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