Sexy Feminism Excerpt: Our Feminist Meet-Cute

To celebrate the publication of our book, Sexy Feminism, we’ll be sharing some short excerpts of it with you, the readers who helped make this book possible! 

Jennifer and I met when we were both on a journey to find—and become—our true selves. We met when both of our lives were in apparent disarray, because we had just lost the men in them. Jennifer had recently broken up with her fiancé, and I had just moved to New York City and left behind a ten-year relationship. A mutual friend recommended I connect with Jennifer because she thought we would click. What an understatement. We bonded first over broken hearts but quickly moved on to a shared passion to do something bigger than the traditional framework of our lives had outlined for us. In a way, we answered each other’s need to become a feminist revolutionary.

Our first “date” we went to see, appropriately, Bend It Like Beckham, a story of female soccer players and friendship. Afterward, as we talked, we agreed we hated current women’s magazines and wished we had our own publication for which to write, one that would print stories on things we cared about. Bust was just emerging as a more modern Ms. (and note: swoon!), but the newsstand was dominated by women’s self-help magazines—the kind that tells women how to do everything they already know how to do and how to fix everything that isn’t broken. Don’t get me wrong: we both loved fashion, makeup, entertainment, and sex. But if we must write about makeup and fashion, we reasoned, couldn’t we write about the ways they both empower and restrict us? Wasn’t there a lot to be said about how pop culture treats women? Shouldn’t someone be writing more in depth and frankly about women’s sex lives? Where was all the real information in women’s media?

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Collaborating with Friends: A Feminist Act

We’ve had it with the term “catfight” and all other popular culture references to female infighting. The truth is, women are each other’s greatest allies in everything from love to career to family. One of the best ways to figure this out—and harness the feminist power of female friendship—is to collaborate with women you know, trust and admire. The founders and editors of this website turned their friendship into a business partnership eight years ago and we’re still going strong—in business and in friendship. Here are some stories of more women who’ve changed their lives for the better through a collaboration with a female friend.

‘Rock Star’ Is a State of Mind

Even now, in the days of Gwen Stefani and Pink and Carrie Brownstein, women in rock are seen as an anomaly — see Rolling Stone’s Best Female Rock Albums list or the special annex at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame dedicated to female artists to witness the ways we’re still ghettoized from rocking out. That might be why it seemed so ridiculous that my friend Melissa and I decided to start a rock band.

Or maybe that was because we were over 35. Or maybe because she’s an opera singer, but wanted to play the drums while I sang, and I’m a writer who took like six months of guitar lessons.

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Navigating Gay/Straight Female Friendship

In 2011, there is little doubt that a gay woman and a straight woman can be friends, but does that core difference in sexuality make theirs a friendship tougher to navigate? I decided to find out by conducting a Q&A session with my good friend, Lisa Marie Basile.

Queer girls: We all know that sometimes it’s not easy for us to relate to the rest of the world, but what about our friends? Depending on when we come out in life, our sexuality can factor greatly or hardly at all when it comes to making and keeping friends, particularly straight girl friends. Of course, the best of friends usually don’t bat an eyelash (or they’re even offering to be your maid of honor at your wedding before you’re even engaged, as my best friend has). But there can be a sense of otherness when you’re the gay half in a female friendship.

Gay Lady: Do you find it difficult to talk about relationship issues (mine or yours) with me?

Straight Lady: I don’t find it difficult to talk about relationship issues with a gay woman at all; though there might be some differences to a homosexual or heterosexual relationship—mainly, gender roles in play that are a whole different discussion (to which I am very sensitive). I don’t know if the human heart is so different when in love or lust. I believe that the struggles of any relationship: fear, trust, longevity, health, etc, are at the core of all relationships. Gender and sexuality can create new dimensions to existing problems (or positive elements) but I believe that my questions and issues can be understood by anyone that speaks my language, if they’re willing to listen. If there is no empathy, I believe there is sympathy, and I am not necessarily an idealist! I think you and I have uniquely experienced heartache and we’re able to talk about it—sexuality aside.

Gay Lady: Is it safe to openly talk about my sex life?

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Girl Kisses (and More) In TV and Film: A 20-Year Retrospective

It’s been twenty years since two women first kissed on a prime time television series. (To find out which show, read on.)

So to celebrate, here’s a brief chronology of girls-who-like-girls characters in TV and film. While many such story lines are produced to merely titillate audiences (see Virginia Heffernan’s 2005 New York Times article on television series using lesbian subplots during sweeps week), I can’t deny that these shows also opened up a larger dialogue in our culture. Here are some of the most positive examples of girl love from the past two decades:

1991: L.A. Law delivers the first on-screen girl-on-girl kiss in the episode, “He’s a Crowd.” Here’s how it goes down: Abby and C.J. (played by Michele Greene and Amanda Donohue, respectively) share a meal together after Abby is turned down for a partnership at the firm. Afterward, they kiss outside in a parking lot. C.J. identifies herself as “flexible” (possibly the first character to ever use that term on television) while Abby considers herself completely heterosexual. Although this subplot doesn’t go very far (and was mostly used as a ratings ploy), I have no doubt that without it the list that follows probably wouldn’t exist.

1996: While the ten-year run of Friends did not primarily feature a lesbian relationship, the episode known as “The One With the Lesbian Wedding” is quite a milestone. Long before the legalization of gay marriage and civil unions, Carol and Susan walked down the aisle and declared their love in a relatively traditional ceremony. On a particularly sweet note, Ross, Carol’s ex, offers to give her away in lieu of her father who disapproved of the marriage.

1997: Ellen DeGeneres as Ellen Morgan comes out on Ellen in the now-infamous “Puppy Episode.” While the show’s ratings suffered and DeGeneres’s own personal revelation that she is gay set off a major backlash, it wasn’t long before she was back on top—hosting the Emmys in 2001, performing a new stand-up comedy routine on HBO, and of course, launching her daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Oh and need I mention marrying one of the most gorgeous women alive, Portia De Rossi? She’s also a Cover Girl—which is both a milestone and an awesome slap in the face to her critics.

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Sexy Feminists Read: Sally Koslow's 'With Friends Like These'

Sally Koslow’s latest novel, With Friends Like These, tackles one of our favorite topics: the challenges of female friendships, especially as we grow up and grow older. We talked to Koslow (who graciously read at our recent Readings & Rubdowns series) about how men, marriage, and real estate can come between even the best of pals — and she gave us some very wise advice about nurturing our girl-on-girl friendships. (She is a very smart lady.)

You’ve said you wanted to show female friends growing apart over issues other than the traditional ones (i.e. men!). Can you talk about some of these other issues and why you chose them instead?

Whenever a commodity is scare, people will compete for it. In today’s world
where jobs are hard to come by, it’s not uncommon for friends to covet the same
position, especially since many of us met one another through our work. One of
the situations in With Friends like These focuses on a professional opportunity.
A second situation connects to kids: one spot at an excellent kindergarten that
two sets of parents would jump over a desk to get for their child. Again, with American schools not as strong as they once were, it’s a sign of the times that parents may come to blows over who gets into an excellent school. I know parents of high school seniors who refuse to divulge where their child has applied to college for fear that their friend’s kid will apply to the same school and be the stronger candidate. The third conflict in the novel arises over real estate. This may strike you as odd, but talk to any residential broker and you’ll discover it isn’t unusual for people who know one another to secretly chase the same appealing, well-priced house or condo.

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Why Is 'You're Fat' Still the Go-To Insult to Use On Women?

“I’m sorry but it just sounds like you’re fat and jealous of those women because they aren’t.”

This is part of a recent comment posted on a not-so-recent story I once wrote for FemiNoshing called “Why can’t even female TV cooks be fat?” While I agree that the story was written with a pretty heavy dose of snark, I’m not interested in rehashing that argument here. Rather, the comment, which devolved all too quickly into a personal attack, made me wonder why often the best way to knock a woman down, the best way to put her in her place and dismiss her, is to call her fat?

And it’s not just women doing this to each other. When men want to make a woman feel bad, whether it’s because she dared have an opinion, or because she rejected him in some way, they will point out that she’s fat. Sure, the words “ugly,” “bitch” and “slut” get bandied about too, but “fat” brings with it its own particular tinge of disgust and contempt.

Why is calling someone fat considered so effective? Oh, right — because being fat is not healthy! (My commenter talked about health, too, but I digress.) I’m not getting into arguments about health at every size here. Nor will I disagree with the concept that being morbidly obese often leads to health problems (and yes, note I pointed to the most extreme example here, because most fat people are not morbidly obese).

But there are lots of things people do that are not healthy. Smoking is not healthy. Drinking hard alcohol (wine, in moderation, is actually recommended) is not healthy. In fact, drinking and driving is downright dangerous. When was the last time being fat and driving caused a pile-up on the highway? [Read more...]

Female Friendship Is a Feminist Act

You don’t have to march at a rally to show your feminism (though it certainly doesn’t hurt): Lady-power starts with empowering fellow women in their time of need. Here, our writers share some of their favorite female-friendship moments …

“Really? I told you to download ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’?” asks Anna, laying her set of Cynthia Rowley china on the counter in our new kitchen. “Was I drunk?”

“I don’t think so. You told me to download that and ‘Engine Driver.’ These cups are great, by the way.” The porcelain is illustrated with cartoonish naked ladies, dirty dishes printed on the bottom. “I thought it was really deep,” I tell her. “I wanted Sam, but I didn’t need him. You get what you need.”

“That’s hilarious. Sam.”

“Why did I like him?” I make room for the dishes in the cupboard.

“Oh, he was cute.”

“Yeah, he was.”

Anna and I met in the spring of my sophomore year, her junior year, of college. We were fast friends, commiserating over her heartbreak for her on-again-off-again guy and mine over a boy I wanted to date who thought of me as just a good friend. But it wasn’t until the following year—around the time I was dating Sam—that I realized Anna was the one who was sticking around. Despite different graduation dates, apartments at opposite ends of New York, my semester abroad, and the season I spent working at a regional theatre in Cincinnati, the years have only brought us closer. This August we finally moved in together.

Since high school, my dating choices have ranged from not-quite-right to airport-romance-novel ridiculous, and I think they’re slowly getting better. But my taste in friends has always been excellent. The guys, even when they’re pretty great, tend to disappear if things don’t work out. Anna and I aren’t planning to live together forever, but I’m pretty confident that whenever we do leave this apartment, the main thing I’ll loose will be those dishes—not her friendship.

– Lily Blau

Just this week a friend mentioned off-handedly that a woman had approached her on the subway, pointing out that her purse was naughtily pulling up her dress in the back. This made me consider all the times I’ve been stopped, always by a fellow lady, and informed of a slight wardrobe malfunction (of which there are apparently a lot). One woman in Philly literally chased me down the sidewalk to alert me that my shirt’s tag was sticking up. Though always a bit awkward, there’s something warm and motherly about these exchanges—female strangers grooming and fixing each other, making sure we’re walking around looking as non-ridiculous as possible.

– Julia Bartz

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Single-Married Relations

Female friendship is complicated in and of itself, but when one woman gets a ring, how do the rules change? We asked each other the tough questions in hopes of improving our communication—and preserving valuable female friendships everywhere.

Married Women: Remember what it was like to be one of the single gal-pals? If your quick answer is, “No, thank God I’m married!”, then you need to check yourself before you wreck your friendships with your still-single friends. The key to keeping these women in your life is to relate to them on an equal level. Every woman’s feelings and emotions are equally complex and relevant, regardless of whether they involve the birth of a new baby or the heartbreak of a new fling. Let your single girlfriends know you are there to listen—not judge.

Married Woman: How interested should I be in your dating/sex life?

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Girl Dates

My best girlfriend and I don’t get a lot of face time together—we live on opposite coasts—but when we are together, we turn into a montage set to a John Mayer song. We might spend the day shopping at some out-of-the-way downtown Manhattan boutiques, get mani/pedis, then go to our favorite garden restaurant for some red wine and Mediterranean food (we share it all, natch) before heading home to snuggle up on the sofa, sip tea, and watch a movie. Or we might go for a hike to catch the ocean view over Santa Monica, take a drive along Sunset Boulevard, then talk each other into some cupcakes (we hiked, after all).

This sort of activity prompts its share of jokes among us—sample text message: “I’m at a cozy makeout table in the back”—and, you can bet, the men in our life—sample remark: “When do you have the naked pillow fight?” But, all kidding aside, I have to admit: I get more romance from girlfriends than from any guys I date.

Now, I could hang this on modern men, whine that they’ve lost all imagination, deduce that we’re giving up the proverbial free milk too easily, etc. True, I bet if we all started donning chastity belts, candy and flower demand would skyrocket. And if we suddenly demanded walks on the beach as a sex prerequisite, there’d be a lot of sand stuck permanently between a lot of sheets. (Why can you never wash sand away?)

But I don’t buy that it’s a gender issue. I’ve had some great dates with my gay, equally planned by both of us, filled with concerts, romantic movies (he was the only person who could see “Bridget Jones’ Diary” as many times as I could), piano bars, and dinners he’d make me at home. A just-a-friend guy and I like to dissect our very separate, never-to-intertwine love lives over expensive, candlelit dinners. A guy I sorta dated (or whatever … trust me, this is no place to get into it) and I started having our best outings—interminable sangrias, hand-holding strolls around my neighborhood, deep conversation—once we determined that we were never going to be a couple. And some of my closest male friends are veritable geniuses at planning platonic outings—to cozy bars and restaurants, Farmer’s Markets, antique shops, two-mimosa brunches.

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The Best Girl Dates in Our Favorite Cities

San Francisco

What is it about blustery climates and our obsession with walking? San Francisco, also a schizo city weather-wise, is gorgeous for girl-date walks. We start the day with a walk/jog/run through the Marina Green, working up a sweat (or just getting some good gossip in). SF is known for its chic and boho styles, so we satisfy our champagne taste with boutique shopping in Pacific Heights, then respect our beer budget with thrift threads in vintage stores in the Haight/Ashbury district. So now we’re broke, but hungry. Popping in and out of wine stores in Sausilito, we sample awesome local vino and nosh on enough free fingerfood to keep up our stamina, which we’ll need once we hit the Castro District for some all-night dancing.

Los Angeles

Forget any and all tourist destinations and get in to nature (yes, L.A. has nature!) You’ll see some of the most majestic mountain, ocean and city views on a hike in Topanga Canyon, which starts with a brutal uphill climb, peaks with a panoramic view overlooking the Malibu coastline and West Los Angeles, and ends with a shady downward trek over a natural waterfall and through a peaceful enclave where LA’s spiritual sect practice Tai Chi. Now you’ll be hungry. Drive down to Santa Monica and gorge yourselves guilt-free on healthy lunch/brunch fixin’s (like Caprese salads, turky/asparagus wraps and stone-cut oatmeal) at Literati Cafe, then stroll the Third Street Promenade for bargain street jewelry and sunglasses (pricy, name-brads represent here, too). Take in a movie at the Arclight Cinemas (where the seats are so comfortable you could take a nap) and finish with dinner at Luna Park, where you can share chocolate and cheese fondue.

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