Links for Sexy Feminists: Falludi on Sandberg, Choice Worries, and more

Choice Worries: A graphic panel illustrates how insidiously abortion rights are being chipped away in certain parts of the U.S. And a current case in Wisconsin demands attention for raising the uncomfortable possibility that certain state laws privilege the unborn at the expense of the mother‘s current independence mental well being.

Sexism and Race: A thought-provoking article in the Atlantic discusses the double whammy black women face, specifically noting that racial stereotypes work against black girls at suburban public schools.

Lean In Backlash: Susan Falludi on the trouble with Sheryl Sandberg‘s bestselling book.

Straight, Gay, Bi: Told while imagining a child’s questions about sexuality, this essay reveals that our adult understanding of sexual orientation is needlessly limiting.

Men and Sexism: A well thought through exploration of the men’s rights movement and its relation to the issues it purports to care about. And the founder of VICE spews some truly regressive b.s. Ugh.

Question Your Assumptions: New archaeological evidence suggests that a 2600 year old Etruscan couple whose bones were unearthed had roles contrary to society’s current understanding of gender. Imagine that!

Asexuality: A sensationalist article suggests that most Japanese individuals are now averse to dating or forming relationships. But on the flip side, this article points out that similar reasoning could lead one to conclude the same thing about the U.S.

Words to Live By: Beautiful advice on finding true love.

‘After Tiller’: The Lives of the Last Late-Term Abortion Doctors

After Tiller

On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was shot to death during a church service in Wichita, Kansas.  Dr. Tiller was one of only five doctors in the United States who performed abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.  Now, there are four, and the documentary After Tiller examines their lives and livelihoods in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s death.

These four doctors are regularly harassed by people who proclaim themselves “pro-life,” yet have no qualms about killing – or celebrating those who do the killing – of abortion providers.  The film asks them why they choose to put themselves in harm’s way, why they choose to make themselves social pariahs.  Over the course of the 85-minute run-time, we learn about how these doctors’ lives have been threatened (death threats are a regular part of their daily life), how their livelihoods are impacted (one doctor was forced to relocate after his state outlawed late-term abortions, and he had an extremely difficult time finding a landlord who would rent to him), and how their personal lives suffer as a result of the trials they endure.  That they choose to stand up for their belief that they are providing a needed service and continue their practice in the face of such overwhelming opposition is nothing short of miraculous.

The film uses interviews and footage from consultations with patients to provide a look into the lives of the four doctors.  It’s no secret that abortion is a politically charged topic, but many people, including the doctors who perform them, treat late-term abortions as much more serious than abortions conducted at the beginning of a pregnancy.  As is detailed in the film, the late-term abortion procedure is fundamentally different from the procedure done earlier in a pregnancy, and the line between “life” and “not life” becomes extremely hazy.  But the facts remain that pregnancy is still a function of a woman’s body, and there are numerous reasons why women choose to get abortions, even at such a late stage of the pregnancy.  In one of the most emotionally powerful interviews in the film, one of the doctors states that she believes that she is working with babies, not fetuses, but that the physical and mental health of the mother outweighs the viability of the baby.

Because that is why these doctors do what they do: the health of the mother.  As the anti-choice crowd so often forgets, the health of the mother, both physical and mental, often hangs in the balance when deciding whether or not to get an abortion.  After Tiller’s use of footage from patient consultations proves again and again that abortion is one of the hardest choices women will ever make.  The film shows women who are torn apart by the decision.  The stigma placed upon the procedure by our society certainly doesn’t help with the decision.  These consultation scenes hammer home the importance of the doctors’ work; although the doctors are the subject of the documentary, the most emotionally powerful scenes are the consultations, highlighting why the doctors have made their decisions to continue their work.

After Tiller certainly won’t change any minds about the morality of abortion.  But it is a powerful piece of filmmaking, reminding those of us who support a woman’s right to choose why that right is so important, and how fragile that right is.  Four doctors in the entire country have the necessary training to perform a procedure that is necessary, if not desired, by some women.  And there are many out there working to change that number to zero.

Links for Sexy Feminists: Costume Play, Male Beauty, and more

Costume Play: Between Halloween and last week’s geek gathering at New York Comic Con, ’tis the season to disguise oneself. You might be saddened but not surprised to see some of the awful, creepy things that cosplayers have been told. These pale in comparison to what happened to one unfortunate soul who had her personal photo of herself as Lara Croft mocked after she accidentally left off the friendslock control on Facebook, yet she sounds empowered in the essay. Yet going in disguise has an important way of releasing inhibitions, according to My Other Me, new documentary about cosplayers.

Ancient History: New findings suggest that most cave paintings were done by female artists.

Sexual Violence: Why campaigns to end the stigma of female pleasure might be triggering for victims of sexual assault. And an empowering look at how an organization in Nashville attempts to turn the tide for domestic victims of sex trafficking.

Real Male Beauty: Since men are increasingly subjected to all the same b.s. beauty standards, it’s refreshing to see four average dudes pose in their underwear.

South Asian Women: Though Malala has been a viral sensation recently for her incredible poise, it’s too soon for her to win the Nobel, and just as well she didn’t. And we love this photoessay about maverick women in Nepal.

Black Women’s Hair: A new collection of photographs gives white women stereotypically black hairstyles, and Crunk Feminist Collective published a moving response.

Female In Public: This wonderful essay perfectly captures what it’s like to be a woman and realize that to some, you are public property.

Charity Cases


To be charitable is to give without an expectation of something in return.  While giving to charitable organizations in exchange for nothing more than the warm feeling you get when you’ve helped others is something everyone should do at least once in their life, that is not to say that it is wrong to give to charitable organizations in exchange for some kind of reward.  Charity auctions are great ways to entice people who might not otherwise donate, and many charities give small goods as incentives for people to donate (tote bags being the product that jumps to my mind, having grown up watching PBS).  But sometimes we forget that the purpose of charity is to help others, not satisfy our own desires.  For example, look no further than to this new story about a group of pickup artists promising to donate money to breast cancer charities in exchange for women allowing these boys to “motorboat” them.

The group, known as Simple Pickup, creates videos “explaining” how to “pick up” women (there aren’t enough sarcastic quotation marks in the world for that clause).  The videos are full of examples of battery, including kissing, touching, and, yes, even motorboating women without asking permission.  In a video released this week, supposedly in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the boys go up to various women and tell them that they will donate $20 to a breast cancer charity in exchange for the privilege of shoving their faces in the women’s cleavage and making a revving sound.

The boys argue that they’re doing good works, but their comprehension of what constitutes good works leaves much to be desired.  (Same goes for their concept of comedy, which I will get to soon.)  As evidenced by the very first lines of the video (“Do you love boobs?  We sure do!”), the people they truly care about helping are themselves.  They are doing this to satisfy their puerile desire to touch what is, in their eyes, the only part of a woman worth touching.  Raising money is just the avenue through which they fulfill their desire.  The boys also get the added bonus of feeling like they are “sav[ing] some boobs.”  Once again, their own statements belie their intent.  They aren’t here to help women afflicted by a deadly disease, their goal is to ensure their favorite body part remains intact.  (They also pledge to donate money for every 100,000 views on their YouTube page.  “Charity” becomes a vehicle for promoting themselves and their disgusting methods.)

Now, before moving on, I have two things I would like to address.  First, I would love to see the footage of the women who declined their offer.  Second, in a response to charges of sexism and sexual assault, the boys counter that their videos are meant to be funny, and that they “don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”  As I said above, their understanding of comedy seems to be lacking.  The art of humor is meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable; humor is derived from showing the powerful in an absurdist, humorous light.  So who is the joke on in these videos?  Clearly, it’s on the women, who find themselves touched, groped, and kissed without their consent.  In the motorboating for charity video (I dislike the term motorboating, but am at a loss for one to describe the specific act they are doing), look at how many of the women hide their faces or show expressions of pure annoyance.  These boys put them in the position of either agreeing to let a couple cretins grope them in public or denying money to a “good cause.”  The boys are the ones with the power.  They are the ones who can dictate that random women make their bodies available for the boys’ pleasure by offering a meager benefit in return.


These boys aren’t the only ones who put the emphasis on breasts rather than women in raising awareness about breast cancer.  “Save The Tatas” and other campaigns that sexualize breast cancer suggest that it’s the breasts worth saving rather than the women.  This again feeds back into the skewed power dynamic, in that it shows just how much value our society places on one part of the female body, rather than on women.  But I would argue that Simple Pickup’s activities trump other sexist campaigns in awfulness, because buying a “Save The Tatas” shirt doesn’t involve hesitantly agreeing to let yourself be groped.

(Also, before you accuse me of being sex-negative, arguing that some women like getting motorboated, let me stop you.  I don’t doubt that some women enjoy it.  To each his or her own, and I would be happy to hear all of the women depicted in the ads enjoyed themselves.  But this wasn’t about them.  The boys wanted to satisfy their own urges.  They said at the top that they were doing this because they loved breasts.  As long as they got what they wanted, that was all that mattered.)

And Simple Pickup isn’t the only group that objectifies women to turn them into the reward for being charitable.  Many organizations use sexualization and objectification of women to entice potential donors.  PETA often uses ads that replace animals with women.  They are also responsible for this unbelievably sexually violent ad.  In this 2008 Guardian article, Julie Bindel lists various events at which famous women have bared all in support of their causes, the most disturbing of which the example of the former Spice Girl posing naked to raise awareness of sex slavery.  I’m not sure whose idea it was to use nudity to denounce sexual slavery, but whoever it was must be missing part of the logic center of his or her brain.  That one of the directors of the charity explained the move by saying that the woman was “exercising her freedom of choice” to go naked, unlike the enslaved women they work with only further underlines the disconnect.  The Spice Girl may not be a sex slave, but her “choice” to go naked is the result of a society placing value on her body rather than her whole self.  The reason her nudity helps “support the cause” is because those with money have demanded it.

Many people who donate money to charity require some kind of value in return.  We as a society have determined that exchangeable value includes women’s bodies.  Charitable organizations are well aware that people will pay money to see naked women, and they have used that knowledge to entice donations.  After all, who wants a crappy tote bag when you could look at naked famous women?

Links for Sexy Feminists: Chris Brown, the Crossdressing Cowboy, and more

Rape Culture and Men: Chris Brown recently mentioned in an interview that he lost his virginity to a young teenage woman when he was only eight. That he brags about it rather than treating it as a sensitive issue has profound implications for how we see men and rape.

Malala Fights On: A wonderful interview with Malala, the Pakistani teenager famous for having been shot by the Taliban shows her wise beyond her years and a little befuddled by her fame.

Out and Proud: A beautiful tale of a Wyoming cowboy and military veteran who goes through all his daily business dressed in 50′s women’s clothing.

Objectification Woes: We’re less than thrilled that Carl’s Junior is using all the tired old “sex sells” cliches in its “new” ads.

Real Female Beauty: A great interview with Petra Collins, an art school wunderkind who designed a shirt for American Apparel with a line drawing of a woman masturbating while on her period.

Girls and Halloween: Gone are the days of DIY costumes and kids will be kids, which is too bad, since I still fondly remember going in a painted old shirt as a tube of toothpaste.

“Legal Limbo”

gavelIn The Trial, Franz Kafka satirizes the labyrinthine, backwards, and maddening court system by telling the story of a trial in which is utterly lacking in logic, empathy, and concern for the rights of the people.  Last week, the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a decision for which the adjective “Kafkaesque” isn’t nearly strong enough.

Last year, the Nebraska legislature enacted a parental consent law, requiring unemancipated women under the age of 18 to acquire the notarized written consent from the woman’s parent or guardian.  There are many reasons why laws like this are troubling, and those reasons will be addressed below, but what would happen if an unemancipated, under-18 woman did not have a parent or guardian?  The Nebraska legislature did not contemplate such a scenario, most likely because being unemancipated usually means that there is a parent or guardian in the picture.  But, in the case of In re Petition of Anonymous 5, the Nebraska Supreme Court had to address just such an issue.

A sixteen-year-old woman, known only as “Anonymous 5,” petitioned a Nebraska trial court to grant her an exception to the consent law (often known as a “judicial bypass”) and allow her to obtain an abortion.  The trial court denied her request, and she appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court.  After Anonymous 5 argued that the trial judge was biased, that she was the victim of abuse and neglect at the hands of her parents (an express exception in the law), that she was emotionally mature enough to make the decision to have an abortion, and that she had no one to provide consent for her, because she was living with foster parents who were not legally her guardians, the Nebraska Supreme Court declined to give her a judicial bypass.

At every turn, the court’s ruling relied on twisted logic and blindness to the realities of life.  For example, Anonymous 5 argued that the trial judge was biased, and she pointed to the fact that he said, on the record that “when you have the abortion, it’s going to kill the child inside of you.”  The trial judge also sat on the committee for an anti-abortion group in the 1980s.  The supreme court declined to consider the bias argument, holding that, because she did not raise the bias issue at the trial level, she could not raise it for the first time before a reviewing court.  Now, normally, a party before a reviewing court cannot raise an argument for the first time on appeal.  However, when the argument is trial court bias, if it would be an “exercise in futility” to argue that the very court you are arguing in front of is biased, the party need not raise it before the trial court.  Personally, I would think that arguing bias about abortion to a man who sat on the board of an anti-abortion group and made such a blatantly anti-choice comment would be an exercise in futility, but I’m not a justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, so what do I know?

Next, the court examined Anonymous 5’s “maturity.”  Testimony before the trial court revealed that Anonymous 5 did much to raise her younger siblings because their parents were never around.  (The reason she and her siblings were in foster care was because her biological parents had been adjudged abusive and neglectful.)  She attended counseling regarding the decision to get an abortion and was apprised of the potential side effects of the abortion procedure.  She testified that she was not financially ready to support a baby, nor was she ready to be the mom she wanted to be.  She wanted to move out of her foster parents’ home and had saved up some money to support herself after leaving.  She testified that had never lived on her own.  She did not testify about work experience (as opposed to testifying that she had no work experience), and she testified that she was planning on graduating high school early, but did not testify as to her grades.  Without knowing much else about her, both the trial court and the supreme court determined that she was not “mature” enough to make a decision about her own body.  Implicit in this ruling was the determination that she was mature enough to carry a baby to term as a 16-year-old girl, and thus deal with the social stigma of being a pregnant teenager.  Furthermore, compare this to the story about the Montana judge who gave a horrifically light sentence to a 54-year-old teacher who had sex with his 14-year-old student, finding that the girl was “older than her chronological age.”  And consider this: the consent law applies to unemancipated women under the age of 18.  But the age of consent in Nebraska is 17.  That means that 17-year-old women in Nebraska are in some weird transition stage in which, in the eyes of the law, they are old enough to make the decision to have sex, but are not old enough to make the decision to deal with the consequences of having sex.

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the decision dealt with Anonymous 5’s status as an unemancipated minor.  In Nebraska, after a minor is placed with a foster family, the foster parents must file paperwork and be appointed as legal guardian by a court.  Anonymous 5 argued that her foster parents never did this, and thus could not give the consent required under the law.  The Nebraska Supreme Court refused to even consider the issue, holding that it was outside the scope of the proceeding.  The absurdity of the situation was not lost on the entire court.  Two justices filed a dissenting opinion, and found that Anonymous 5 was in “a legal limbo” as a result of the legislature’s failure to foresee the situation.

Again, enshrining certain people’s morals in legislation and denying people’s choice has created an impossible situation for people who are in a traumatic and stressful situation.  This case has the insulting paternalistic issues inherent in most anti-choice legislation – the government would assume it can determine who is mature and who is not via hearings and testimony – but also has the added twist of an absurd result, a “legal limbo,” in which this young woman has no way to satisfy the letter of the law and yet is denied an exemption because she could not satisfy the exceptions to the law.

Links for Sexy Feminists: Shutdown Watch, Relationship Woes, and more

Shutdown Watch: Lest we forget that in the background of the Congress-driven shutdown in American government, there is still a fight against women’s equal access to healthcare. Meanwhile, female state legislators gathered across party lines to encourage Congress to resolve its issues.

Women and Policy: On a different political note, check out this report on how women are faring in different U.S. states.

Relationship Woes: A handy guide to help you figure out if your partner’s issue is your problem, too.

Abortion Misconceptions: A new documentary aims to remove some of the stigma and unfair prejudices about doctors who are still willing to perform late-term abortions.

Bollywood: Next week marks the first Mumbai Women’s International Film Festival.

Fashion Week: Every recent fashion week seems to invite discussion about the exclusion of African American women. So we’re really digging Rick Owens’s use of competitive step dancers in place of stereotypical runway models.

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