Lessons from Our SEXY FEMINISM Panel

538959_10151580288618832_1167414471_n-300x224Last night, I had the honor of moderating a panel filled with some of my favorite feminist ladies discussing the big issues of the day (that’s Lean In and gay marriage to you) at Word Bookstore in Brooklyn to promote Sexy Feminism. We had four spectacular women from different parts of the femi-sphere: Rachel Kramer Bussel, the lady to go to for great sex writing and erotica anthologies; Britt Gambino, Sexy Feminist’s gay-lady contributor (as she likes to call herself); Julie Gerstein, an editor at The Frisky; and Jamia Wilson, a media activist. You never really know how panels full of people who have never met will go, especially on such hot topics. But I was blown away by the level of discourse — yes, it was so smart that it was discourse! — as well as the fact that the discussion was entertaining and engaging without being any sort of fight. I wish I’d recorded the entire thing so everyone could see how amazing it was, but instead I’ll give you a few highlights of what I learned:

It doesn’t matter whether the young feminist movement online gets the acknowledgement it deserves from older generations of feminists. Second-Wave women fought hard and fought bravely for so many of the rights we now take for granted: We are no longer our husbands’ property. We no longer need husbands. We have access to jobs they could never dream of, and we have laws and support systems in place to handle domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination. They got us all that by taking to the streets, demonstrating, and agitating. We don’t have quite the same sort of massive, critical issues to rally around, but we do have the Internet. And since a ton of our activism now takes place online, many of the older women involved in the movement bemoan the fact that feminism is dead — they literally don’t see us, despite major “wins” like taking the Susan G. Komen Foundation to task for pulling its Planned Parenthood funding and shaming that weird wave of “rape-friendly” political candidates last year. We talked a lot about this last night, and the fact that older activists are often asking us why we aren’t “in the streets” demanding change. It’s largely because we’re on Twitter demanding change, but this is often not acknowledged by our foremothers as real activism — and it was barely mentioned in PBS’ otherwise exhaustive and spectacular MAKERS documentary about feminist history. But the group basically came to the conclusion that we need to stop acting like daughters desperate for their mothers’ approval and instead, as Jamia suggested, make our own documentary of our own piece of the movement. For the record, I’m so into this idea.

There are feminist yoga retreats, y’all! Because it’s important for feminist activists to take care of themselves so they can give the world all they’ve got. Jamia went to one, and it sounded amazing. To me, it also sounds like a great way to get inspired, bond with like-minded women, and probably come up with a bunch of fantastic new ideas. We need to make these happen all the time.

“Leaning In” definitely has its issues. Julie made the great point that all of these attention-getting books and articles about women in the workplace are, as she said, “asking the wrong question.” It’s not about whether women can “have it all,” or learn new skills from Sheryl Sandberg to climb the corporate ladder. The problem is much bigger and more systemic: We all are making less money for more work, forcing most families to need two incomes and overtime just to survive. That’s why no one, male or female, can have it all. Rachel mentioned the many women now running their own small businesses — you don’t have to lean in if you make yourself the CEO. (I know tons of women doing this right now: My sister runs her own boudoir photography business, my friend just launched a wedding-deals site.) And Jamia, one of the few people I’ve encountered who actually read Lean In instead of just talking about it, gave the best critique I’ve heard so far: She told us about her paternal grandmother, a black woman who raised eight children as a single mother in the south, providing for them by cleaning other people’s houses and taking care of other people’s (white) children. The problem with Lean In, she said, is that it doesn’t take into account the less fortunate people you have to “lean on” to get to the corporate suite.

None of us know what the hell to make of marriage anymore. Obviously, we all think gay people should be able to get legally married. Jamia is engaged, but the rest of us were still wishy-washy on the idea. Britt, for one, isn’t sure about getting involved in the whole marriage machine as straight people have built it. (Can’t say I blame her.) When New York legalized gay marriage last year, she experienced sudden resistance to the pressure to conform to straight-marriage traditions.

It’s good to go hang out with smart feminist women sometimes. I loved just talking all this stuff out with others who care about it as much as I do. I need more feminist bonding in my future.

‘The Cosby Show’: One of the Most Feminist Shows of All Time?

cosbyshow_main_max-277x300I’ve been overdosing on Cosby Show reruns (6-7 p.m. EST weekdays on Centric!), and watching the series as an adult, I’ve discovered something surprising: It’s feminist. Like way feminist. Like stridently feminist. The show overall is not an exercise in subtlety, of course — Bill Cosby meant to teach you all some things while making you laugh — but wow. Cosby carefully and famously avoided taking on most modern issues — namely racism, but also anything political or topical. Except, it seems, the issue of where women stood in Cosby’s vision of a perfect world. As a man who was preaching strong family, he wanted to make one thing clear: In his mind, “family” was not a euphemism for patriarchy like it is for so many others.

Countless plots and subplots involve Cosby’s character, Cliff, schooling his son-in-law, Elvin, in what amounts to feminism. Elvin arrives in the Cosbys’ lives as a blatant sexist and eldest daughter Sondra’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. This amounted to a clever plot device, since Sondra was a smarty pants going to Princeton. It made for funny, teachable conflict. And woman-power always won, though the show was careful not to get too aggressive toward the men. The men who were sexists simply didn’t know any better, and had to be taught. One episode I recently watched had Elvin trying to endear himself to mother-in-law Clair by learning to cook. After several verbal missteps — saying he was learning to do “women’s work,” for instance — he’s put in his place by nearly every Huxtable female. Then Cliff teaches him to cook a simple meal, and everyone wins.

Another fall guy for sexism in the Cosby Show world is Kenny, youngest daughter Rudy’s friend. He’s also known as “Bud,” simply because Rudy has decided to rename him. This recurring joke carries a lot of weight: The two are constantly fighting, and almost always about feminist issues, at the tender age of about 6. But the fact that Rudy can call him what she wants reminds us: She is in charge. A typical Rudy/Bud episode aired earlier this week: As they head out to play in the cold, Rudy loans Bud one of her brother’s hats, but then snatches it back in anger when Bud tries to open the door for her because, he says, “you’re a woman and I’m a man.” Cliff solves the problem by opening the door himself while emphasizing that he isn’t doing it because he is a man, but because he is a tired father kicking the kids out of the house.

And speaking of Dad, did you ever notice that he shares at least half the childcare burden, if not more, in the Huxtable household? A gynecologist (gynecologist!), he operates his office in the basement of their brownstone, so he picks the kids up from school and handles after-school chores and conflicts. We often see him heading to the hospital to deliver a baby, but that’s an off-hours thing. He also cooks a fair amount, though his culinary adventures don’t always turn out great. (The price of comedy.) That’s not to mention all of the amazing parenting he runs around doling out. Of course, to be this attentive and wonderful is unrealistic — but he did a hell of a job modeling great fathering behavior.

Clair pulls her share, too, of course, when it comes to feminism. She’s a lawyer (with an unlikely job that sends her home by about 6 most nights, from what I can tell). She delivers some quality rants — Phyllicia Rashad is a great ranter — against sexist behavior she encounters. And perhaps she knew something the rest of us didn’t. Nearly 30 years later, we’re all still looking to Sheryl Sandberg to tell us how we can do “it all,” but the answer is: Be Clair. Marry a Cliff.