This is What a Feminist Looks Like

A little while ago, a horrible anti-feminist/fat-shaming meme started going around the Internet. If you’ve been online since it started circulating, you’ve probably seen it. The photo–if there had been no text added to it–is a great picture. It’s inspirational. It’s a plus-sized woman facing the camera and proudly holding a  paper that says “This is what a feminist looks like”.

I have similar pictures, of me proudly wearing my This is What a Feminist Looks Like t-shirt. For example: this one, taken when I hosted an amazing event that featured the strong community of women poets and musicians within the Salt Lake community.

Photo by Shauna Brock
Photo by Shauna Brock

Back to the meme.

What on its own is a wonderful picture that speaks volumes of feminist pride and exudes confidence was stolen and the message of power was taken away by a malicious caption:  “That’s pretty much what I expected.”

When I discovered the picture, I found myself unexpectedly crushed by the implication that somehow I, as a plus-sized woman and a feminist myself, was somehow less human. Suddenly I was just as easily worth ridicule and disgust. And it wasn’t just the person (or people) who found the image and added the horrific captioning who shocked me–it was the too-many-to-count commenters who were agreeing with the idea, and carrying on the anti-feminist/fat-shaming/anti-human campaign.

I claim to have little faith in humanity among my group of friends. They hear me day after day complaining about the stupidity of people, it’s a thing that I have been doing for a long time, and it’s second nature really. But honestly, under all the bark, I don’t believe it. I generally feel that people are good, that people are capable of amazing, wonderful things. But then something like this happens. And suddenly, my faith in humanity is actually shaken to its very core. The kind of people who insulted this woman are loathsome, vile creatures. And I find it hard to believe that someone could be so very hurtful, and damaging. But it happened.

Then today, I found something wonderful.

Turns out that the stolen picture is actually of a wonderfully badass feminist activist named Kelly Martin Broderick. And she wrote an amazing post about how horrified she was to discover the picture had been stolen and used as it was. But she didn’t stop at horrified. She fought it as best as she could, trying to get the picture removed from facebook since it had been stolen, but to no avail. But that did not stop her from speaking up and speaking out.

Kelly Martin Broderick: You are absolutely my hero.

I can’t tell you how much your voice made a difference to me today. It takes extreme courage to stand up when people are attacking in droves, powered by the fuel of the internet.

I am inspired by your strength, and grateful that you were able to rise above the awfulness of the Internet-gone-bad and make your statement. Despite the awful behavior of the people behind this meme, something great came out of this. Broderick proved that strength is possible in circumstances beyond one’s own control. That even when things are not working towards our favor, we can turn the tide and remind people that our greatest strength is in fact the power of our voice, and our ability to stand strong—and not take other people’s bullshit. If the people behind the meme can use the powers of the internet for harmful purposes, we can use the internet for good. To remind those that found the meme and grew as disheartened as I did upon first seeing it that the world is not all chaos and awful.

I am so fucking grateful for Broderick’s strength, because it’s reminded me that I too am powerful. And we feminists are everywhere. And taking this kind of bullshit is simply unacceptable. Hatred, mean-spiritedness, and spite will get you nowhere. If you want to be happy, if you want to make a difference in the world, you move past those things. You remember that everyone is human, that everyone has feelings and that EVERYONE REGARDLESS OF DIFFERENCE deserves a chance to be happy and live their lives.

If you haven’t already read Broderick’s piece on xojane, you should definitely go do that. Also, contribute to the tumblr page she set up, We Are What Feminists Look Like. As she explains in the piece on xojane:

The biggest miss the creator of my meme made was not realizing the point of the This is What a Feminist Looks Like campaigns; the point is to draw attention to the fact that feminists are not all the same. We are all different.  

So in response, I am starting a tumblr, We Are What Feminists Look Like. A few friends have already submitted pictures and I hope many more of you folks will submit pictures or thoughts. This experience has taught me that while one cruel person can ruin my morning, I have an entire community of friends, family, and feminists to back me up.  
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How CosmoGirl! saved my life

CG! February 2008As unbelievable as this may sound–there’s a lot more to Cosmo Girl! than fashion, makeup and selling body images to teen girls.

Take the February issue. On the back cover (there’s a special end section featuring Fall Out Boy Pete Wentz) there’s a teaser for “THE NEW F-WORD (AND WHY YOU SHOULD USE IT.)”

Could it be?

An article on feminism?

In Cosmo Girl!?

The little sister of Magazine?

No Way!

But, there it is on page 102 with a bold headine “The F-Word.” The article is unabashedly feminist and features two viewpoints. That of the Mom (Leslie Bennetts, author of The Feminine Mistake) and the Daughter (Emily Gerard). The article is accompanied by pictures of teens–both girls and boys–wearing “This is What a Feminist LFeminists–invading a town near youooks Like” t-shirts.

Really. Who would’ve thought? And–get this–the article on feminsm is not necessarily the most revolutionary article in the magazine.

Thumb through a few back issues and you’ll find discussions on racism (“Could You Be a Racist?” November 2007), saving energy and the environment (“Stay Green, Young Woman! December 2007/January 2008), and the ever important gender (“The Gender Spectrum”, October 2007).

FOUR different issues within a four month span–each containing extremely important subjects.

Could Cosmo Girl! be Ms. jr.? Well…probably not. There’s still far too many emaciated/scantily clad looking women in perfume ads.this…is selling perfume? really?

Could Cosmo Girl! be a good influence on young women?

Yes~most definitely. In addition to the extremely important articles I’ve already mentioned, each issue of CG! is packed with sections that not only encourage health and well being, but also ones that encourage teen girls to be active outside of her immediate environment and make a difference by volunteering. In other words–in the world of Cosmo Girl! there’s more to life than makeup, hair, clothes and, ohmigod, boys.

Speaking of boys, Cosmo Girl! definitely doesn’t go by the “abstinence only” sex-ed fed to most teens thanks to the Bush administration. In the Nov 2007 issue a small article under the Health section called “Condom Conundrum” gave some necessary information on having safe sex.

So bottom line–if you know a teen girl who needs reading material with a little dose of empowerment every month, CG! might not be a bad magazine to go for.

It’s not perfect by any means–but it’s got enough of what matters to really make a difference to young women, possibly impacting not only their futures but also the future of our society.

p.s.: It really doesn’t hurt that each CG! comes with an action packed manga, “The Adventures of Cosmo Girl!” It’s a surprisingly addictive manga. 🙂

The Adventures of Cosmo Girl! Tokyopop manga
(for more info on the manga: check out the CG! manga site

But Girls Aren’t Supposed to be Smart

Not only is today thI <3 Feminisme first of February, but today marks a return to Feminism Friday–a great opportunity to write about all of those little feminist issues that come up far too often…
Rock’n.

I love the women at my work–I do. Right now my job isn’t the best or most glamorous, it’s an “I NEED MONEY, STAT” kinda job. The kind of job that you take on before you’ve figured out the rest of your life and your dream career. So having good coworkers is a must–it makes bad days good (there’s nothing quite like sharing a moment of mutual complaint) and good days better.

So like I was saying. These women are pretty much great. Half the time we’re complaining about work (I swear, the supervisors at this place would eliminate breaks and lunch altogther if they could. One of the upper level guys said he’d love to take away extra days if he could–which sucks for those of us who sign up for extra days because, well, we need the money.) and the other half these world-wise women are jokingly threatening to set me up with someone.

Today at lunch, the topic of finding me–the twenty-something, single grrrl–a guy. This of course was mixed in with me expressing my woes about not being able to attend the Women, Action & the Media conference due to financial issues (if only I wasn’t on the other side of the US–$500-$600 for a plane ticket? that hurts) and my laughing about how seriously I wanted a dictionary for Christmas–I mean, come on…mine’s from the early ’90s.

Mix this ‘smart talk’ with ‘potential relationship’ talk and what do you get?

Idea’s like “You’re too smart for a guy” and “Play dumb.” Needless to say, these are ideas I’m not terribly fond of, and told ’em so. (Happily they accepted that and began saying, ‘ok! we’ll start looking in libraries and Barnes and Noble for you…”)

So, seriously…what is up with the idea that guys get to have the brains in the relationship?

“Who invented the Typical Girl?” (The Slits)

It’s safe to assume that it draws on the archaic assumption that the men are the breadwinners while women are supposed to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen (never has “moral”–as in moral values–been so twisted). Men get to be the CEOs of big companies and important political figures. Women get to be the trophy wives while their boyz are off doing the important work. Case in point-count how many times you’ve heard Dennis Kucinich’s wife, Elizabeth mentioned. Now take that number and figure out how many of those times her appearance was central to the comment.

I can’t guess what you’ll say, but I’ll bet most of the times you’ve heard her mentioned it’s been in an “Oh wow, how’d Kucinich end up with such a hot woman?” type of mention. While I’m sure Kucinich didn’t marry her just because she’s gorgeous, that’s the type of thing the media likes to pick up.

The double standard featured in 50s television shows still remain 50+ years later. Sure, women are making extreme strides. It’s not the 50s, as can be evidenced by the sheer number of women enrolled in colleges (often we’re outnumbering our male counterparts!) and the number of women branching out to different careers and *gasp* remaining unmarried ’till their late 20s/30s…the many forms of domestic goddesses

Yet-traditional gender roles do exist, as proved by my coworkers today. Sure they’re quite a bit older than I am and the times they grew up in were different from 2008, so it’s hard to imagine some of what they were raised on isn’t still in them. But they’re not the only ones with this view.

A group on LiveJournal and several groups on feminism can attest to that. A community on LiveJournal is bringing back the domestic goddess idea with fervor: The goal of Future Domestic Goddesses of America? “…prepare for an excellent life being great at what we love to do. We will be cooking, cleaning and sex experts, all in addition to maintaining our hotness til we’re pretty old. These things will become a full time job, and just like doctors go to med school, and pilots go to flight school, women who want this job need to prepare for it.”

Well, at least the young women in this group have goals. But I wonder if they realize the complete ramifications of their choice? One poster on the site decried an article on feminism: “Get over yourself and realize that living for someone other than yourself is ok. If you choose to make homemaking your career thats ok too. There is nothing more rewarding and honorable than to take care of your husband and your home.”

Nice thoughts. If you end up in a dream marriage that will never end in divorce leaving you money-less, job-less and potentially home-less. And also, homemaking really isn’t a career in the monetary sense. Yes, homemaking is a vital (oh-so-vital) aspect of our lives. Laundry doesn’t do itself and kids do need a little guidance to make sense of the world. But leaving your life outside of the home on hold can be dangerous to your future. Yes, we need to take care of each other and that is honorable, but make sure you don’t take care of someone/something so much that you forget about yourself and your dreams.

savvy?

Another interesting thing about the FDGoA goal is that you can add “for someone” to each one. A revised goal would look something like this: We will be cooking (for someone), cleaning (for someone), and sex experts (for someone), in addition to maintaining our hottness till we’re pretty old (for someone).”

When you read something that can easily be interpreted like that–how is it a surprise that gender roles remain in existence? Women can too often play to these stereotypes–knowingly or unknowingly. Young women like these are only too happy to play to the expectations of their gendered role (though I’m sure many of them feel that they are, in fact, doing these things for themselves and not *just* their significant other). Then there are women who, in order to meet a guy, will ‘play dumb’ at first, just to make sure the waters of a relationship start off smoothly. She’ll try to be everything this potential partner wants from her–smart but not so smart she’ll overshadow him, grateful that he’s there, wanting of protection, etc, etc the list goes on.

I for one will never play into that role. That role in particular needs to go away. In any relationship I will be forthright and honest as to who I am and expect a partner to do the same. As a woman I can say to men everywhere: We are your equal in relationships.

-don’t idolize us and put us on pedestals.

-don’t assign us to do your laundry unless your taking equal share in housework

-don’t patronize us

-don’t expect us to get your damn beer–if you have feet then you can get up off that sofa and get it yourself.

Don’t misconstrue these, either. One could easily go away from this post thinking that feminists put way too much logic into their relationships so how could they truly love someone? Take care of someone/be taken care of? To all you doubters–it’s possible. And don’t blame me for having standards in a partner.

gah!

So today I was in our local entertainment store, For Your Entertainment–FYE ( a big chain store in this area) and I came across a 2008 calendar put out by Rolling Stone-the biggest music mag in the US of A.

The calendar?

Rolling Stone Women in Rock.

I practically cringed at the “women in rock” label–but that wasn’t even the worst part. It’s a known fact that as far as magazine covers go, it’s usual to see men in strong poses, fully clothed. Women, on the other hand, are more often seen as little more than pieces of meat–and are treated as such. Their postures tend to be more submissive and they tend to have less clothes than their male counterparts. With many women in music, they find their gender overshadows their music-partially because of their appearance.

And Rolling Stone, it seems, will not let them forget that their gender and their bodies are more important than their music. in a very Sports Illustrated-Swimsuit Calendar-sorta move-I present to you the 2008 Rolling Stone Women in Rock Calendar:

sexism at the finest

(sry, I can’t make it bigger…but do a google image search and you should find larger versions if you need ’em.)

Ignorance abounds….on Youtube

So I’m moderately obsessed with the band The Kills. I heard of them a while back when I heard the Placebo album, Meds, which features a song w/ the lead vocalist of the duo The Kills. So I checked ’em out….liked ’em, but moved on to the likes of Metric. Now I’ve come back to the Kills and am more and more intrigued. first, to those who compare them to the White Stripes (all duos are the same, right? ha, wrong.), I compleeetely disagree.

When I heard the album “Keep on Your Mean Side”, the comparison I made wasn’t The White Stripes, it was PJ Harvey in the “Dry” era…The Kills-Superstition

For those of you who are not familiar with the Kills, here’s a bit about them: The Kills is a two-piece made up of VV, the lead singer who provides smoky borderline blues vocals (and yes, she’s a woman…thus part one of the PJ Harvey comparison) and Jamie “Hotel” Hince, the guitarist extraordinaire. Their music could definitely be classified as garage-band type rock–the kind of music you’d hear in underground rock clubs in London (incidentally, where the band is currently located, though VV is originally from the states) Well, okay… I’m going to admit that I have only heard “Keep on Your Mean Side”, and I understand “No Wow” (which is on its way to me now!!!!!!! Wooot!) is a bit of a different side for the band, so I can only speak from the “mean side” perspective…

So, onto why youtube sucks. Here follows a comment by a youtube user:

“Who cares if she’s a lesbo she is nothing, its all about him, he’s a great modern guitar player and she is purely incidental any skinny moderatly attractive bruntette would fill the hole.”

ummmm, yeah. That’s a real, real intelligent comment….NOT. (yeah, ok. I have Wayne’s World on my mind. so sue me)

actually, it’s highly insulting. If I weren’t watching my language, I’d use some other words, but lucky you, I’m being “nice”.

While I’m new to the world of the Kills, I very much doubt that the band would be the same without VV. Sure, the guitar playing is a part of the music, but that’s not it. and Hinton wouldn’t be in the band if she wasn’t playing an integral part to the music.

That comment in one sentence dashes all the advancements women have made in music. It shatters the idea that women have any value in the world of music at all…to this YouTube user (and possibly many more like him/her), men exemplify excellence in music, women are merely the showpieces. Men are the guitar virtuosos, women, the pretty party favors.

It should go unstated that attitudes like that frustrate me, and that it’s completely false. If you know anyone who shares similar views, please do what you can to combat them. Remind them that it isn’t just the men who know how to rock (can anyone say KITTIE?!?!).

And this comment isn’t the first of its kind I’ve seen. Youtube is full of sooo much sexism/ignorant comments that sometimes it literally makes me angry at humanity, that there are people who could make horrible offensive comments all under the guise of anonymity. The Internet is a vast place, and can be a very scary one. Anyone with access to a computer can get on it and pretend to be someone their not. Anyone with access to a computer can log on and leave ignorant –sometimes even threatening–comments with little regard to retribution…for there is none. They’ve nothing to fear, for the most part. it’s all anonymous.

the internet is a place where anyone can and spread ignorant messages, hurt and threaten the people they’re threatened by (if the name Kathy Sierra means nothing to you, please enlighten yourself. This is a story that needs to be told and known). While the Internet is a wonderful place with loads of great content and perspectives (though some of the most needed stories can still be invisible….for the internet does require that little thing called access), it can also be dangerous.

so, play at your own risk. And, if you’ve listened to the lessons your parents/mentors have given you: do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Just because you can be anonymous, doesn’t mean you should take that as a chance to hurt people.

And….don’t make my mistake. Ignore the YouTube Comments and you’ll be much happier. I promise.

Her Fall From Grace

So, the latest news item centers around Britney Spears’ “comeback” on the VMAs (9 Sept). Everyone’s talking about how lip synched (badly), how out of it she looked (she seemed to be going through the motions without feeling her music), and (this is the biggest criticism)–how “FAT” she looked in her black sequined bikini. Brit’s “How not to make a comeback” outfit

I’ve never liked Britney Spears. Pop princesses were never my thing–especially when they went from ‘innocent’ schoolgirls to an all out vixen role…As an older sister, I couldn’t help but to be concerned that young girls looked up to her. However, my dislike for her does not mean I’ll use this performance to further make fun of her.

In fact, I believe the crap she’s getting because of it is absurd and rude.

Seriously, when was the last time you’ve heard someone speak critically about a male musician’s weight? Let’s take actor (and a musician of sorts) Jack Black. Who–when Nacho Libre came out–spoke out about how fat he looked in the costume? Who do you know that said something like “Ew, Black needs to lose some weight before he puts on something like that…disgusting…”

So what’s with the double standard? Why must women be small/petite (but preferably with rounded curves…and if she doesn’t have ’em…why! that’s what cosmetic surgery is for…but that’s another story…) Why is it that we as women are brought before the judge and jury when we are found lacking in appearance? Why is it we must fear wrinkles when men can proudly brandish theirs and say, “hey, look at me! I’m distinguished!” Why is it we must buy into a culture that says women can’t be happy and look how we want to look/how we naturally look? This look does not a good woman make, for she must shave, put on makeup and follow the other rites of beauty. Women who are too fat, too old, too calloused are exposed to the world as frauds, as imposters.

Male performers don’t experience this.

To be sure, Spears was wearing an outfit, which according to general consensus, requires a specific body type. But who says you have to be that body type? Yoplait? (With its ads featuring the “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikinisong, women don’t seem to have a lot of choice in feeling good about themselves. They’re either hot…or they’re not…and they gotta hide if they aren’t…)NME acknowledges real (not fake) beauty

Relegating beauty to physical shape is unreal. Women come in all different shapes and all different sizes. If NME can realize this, so should everyone.

So here’s the questions Britney Spears needs to start asking herself. (btw, she looked damn good for having had kids-the ‘fat’ thing is ridiculous): What was she trying to accomplish with that outfit/song? Is she still trying to regain her years as pop princess? Is she even comfortable with herself yet, as a human being?

Personally, I think Spears has some work to do on herself…and w/ the paparazzi waiting for the next “Brit screws up!” story, it’s kinda hard. The media needs to give her a break and let her find herself.

I also believe that if Spears wants to remain a celebrity, she needs to revamp herself. She isn’t 18 anymore and trying to reclaim those years is impossible. If she wants to stay true to music, then she should! But, she should roll with the changes.

Life is change, and to try to keep a dead image is futile.

So Britney-here’s to you…may you accept that change happens and take the popular criticism of you with a grain of salt. I may not love you as an artist, but as women we are in this together…and you don’t deserve any of what the media is saying. Be who you are, not who pop culture presses you to be.

Without sexiness, can she sell?

 It’s funny how things many of us know to be true, aren’t so widely known among widely respected media sources—take for example CNN.

Last Thursday, an AP story appeared on CNN with the headline If You’re a Female Singer, You’d Better Be Sexy.”

Um…duh? Where was this AP writ‘niqueer when the song “Video Killed the Radio Star” came out? (Or for that matter, the creation of MTV.)

The article continues to point out that women like Melinda Doolittle from “American Idol” could not possibly be successful due to her “matronly” appearance. On the other hand, women such as (and I quote) “‘America’s Top Model’ Avril Lavigne” and “blonde stunner Carrie Underwood” among others are going to be more successful. 

Again—where is anything in this article new? Exposé’s are supposed to expose something unknown, not ‘expose’ something that is obvious.

But seriously, this article isn’t all bad. On a positive note, it does remind us that our culture is one where sex sells. And yes, women with figures like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera are unquestionably going to be seen as more desirable as well as talented (though some of these appealing women may have little actual talent…cue The Spice Girls…and more recently, The Pussy Cat Dolls. Really, it isn’t the music that made these groups popular).

The article continued to be very negative towards the idea that women lead singers could be anything but attractive. They asked country star Gretchen Wilson if a frontwoman with so-so looks and sex appeal could get a record deal and she replied, “they can’t.”

While the negative attitude is understandable, it’s not the way things have to be. Those of us who listen to music, buy CDs/songs on iTunes and have an interest in what music we hear are active consumers. We have agency and an ability to act on our interests. For us to take what the media empire gives us and not question what we’re getting is unacceptable.

And despite the fact that the modern front woman still looks—for the most part—thin and sexy, there are beautiful exceptions.

One needs look no further than Beth Ditto.
The Gossip

Ditto isn’t your average front woman. Not only does she not fit into the image set by tight-short-wearing Shakira, she’s also an out lesbian. And she’s outspoken. Her songs aren’t about sweet summer romances—they’ve got a message that comes straight from her political viewpoints.

Though The Gossip is US based, they weren’t really embraced in the “land of the free” ‘till Britain found them.

Love her or hate her, Ditto is the antithesis of the “only hot women can be successful in music” idea. Ditto is attractive—in a way that suits her. She commands power and does thing her way. And I’m positive she isn’t the only one.

If you’re sick of perpetuating the idea that ‘only the hot survive’ look for artists who defy the conventional beauty standards. Look for women who are what they are and do what they want despite what’s ‘expected.’ The search can start from your local music scene. Or it could branch out into the bigger indie/underground music scene. But keep looking. And remember to ask the question–who’s defining ‘sexy’ anyway? 😉

And keep the music alive! Remember it’s about the music—not the image.

P.S. I final note–Kelly Clarkson also of “Idol” fame, spoke out recently about her experience with sexism within the music industry. And her new video from the upcoming album isn’t half bad. I judged her too quickly (I judge everyone on “American Idol” too quickly….I don’t like the show…).
At any rate, Yay Kelly! 🙂

and p.p.s.–what’s with the cheating kick Hollywood is on? Justin Timberlake, Carrie Underwood and Kelly….wtf?