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


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 20thweek 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.

Why Men Need To Be Feminists

Who-Needs-Feminism-29-300x199Hello!  I am honored to now be posting on The Sexy Feminist from my own byline.  You may recognize my name from a few guest posts that have gone up over the past two months, and I look forward to contributing my voice along with Jennifer, Heather, and the entire Sexy Feminist community.  I would like to begin by writing about why, as a man, I am excited and honored to contribute here.  I have had a lot of fun researching and writing my previous posts, but my feminism is something I take rather seriously.  I am certainly not alone as a male feminist, but the phrase “male feminist” comes off as strange or oxymoronic to many.  I’m here to express why that point of view could not be further from the truth.

For a long time, I was resistant to the idea of calling myself a feminist.  I have long believed in feminist goals — equal pay, equal opportunity, bodily autonomy, dismantling the culture of violence toward women, etc. — but various factors prevented me from fully committing to my beliefs.  For one thing, I didn’t think that feminism was “my fight.”  I understood that women, as a group, suffer oppression and are subjected to harsh societal double standards.  I felt empathy and I hoped for feminism to succeed.  But I did not think I, as a man, had a place in this cause, other than as a near-silent supporter from the sidelines.  Even worse, I was afraid to give myself the label of feminist.  Our society has rather rigid ideas of what constitutes “masculinity,” and men who do not conform are punished through various forms of social stigma, or, in extreme cases, physical violence.  Calling oneself a feminist is a surefire way to be seen as “not masculine.”

Then I grew up emotionally, and I realized the fallacies behind my reasoning.  Basing my behavior on how society views masculinity is a negative effect of the patriarchal culture that feminism is fighting against.  Men and women alike are negatively affected by the patriarchy (although women have it much, much worse).  For me personally, I was suppressing my beliefs because I feared how others would view and treat me if I expressed them.  That is the mark of an unfree, oppressive social order, and upon realizing that, I was able to understand just how much I had been influenced by the patriarchy.  By conforming my behavior to what society asked of me, I was feeding into the very social status quo I believed should change.  When I realized that, I knew that I could not say I believed in equality if my behavior reinforced an unequal society.

As for my other reason, the notion that the fight for equality is “not my fight” is lazy, apathetic, and cowardly.  If one believes that an oppressed group should not be oppressed, one must work to make it so, even if one is not a member of the oppressed group.  Feminism challenges poisonous ideas that are deeply ingrained in our society.  As someone who believes that challenging those ideas is a social imperative, I would fail to live up to my beliefs if I did not actively vocalize and act upon them.  As previously explained, by choosing to do nothing, I was behaving according to the status quo that feminism seeks to dismantle.  I may have never personally told a woman to “go make me a sandwich” or tried to pay a women less than a man for doing the same job, but I was content to let other people do the hard work of challenging this oppression while I continued to mindlessly enjoy the privileges given to me as a result of my Y chromosome.

In order for social change to occur, we must change ourselves.  Just because a man has never personally wronged a woman, he contributes to the status quo by not fighting against it.  Only by choosing to work against the established view of how men and women should behave and be treated can someone work towards improving society.  I know that many people think they are fine the way they are and will bristle at being asked to change, but the change I am advocating is not difficult.  Men need to accept that we are given a privilege at birth, that, because of our sex, we will be treated better by the government and by our employers, and that we will be in less danger of physical attacks and sexual assault.  And then, we must willingly release that privilege.  We must treat others with dignity and respect, treat others like they are human beings, as opposed to nurses, maids, sexual objects, or any of the other subordinate roles society has imposed upon women.  And we must advocate against those who would do otherwise.  Your life will not get worse by accepting that all humans are equal and you will not lose anything by working toward equality.  In fact, your life will almost certainly improve.  (Once I stopped caring about how society perceived my masculinity, I became much happier.)  Being a male feminist is not an oxymoron, it is not strange, and it is not a rarity.  Being a male feminist is essential to being human.  You can choose not to act and to let an unequal and hostile society continue.  Or you can choose to seek equality, and improve the lives of women and men alike.

Why We Need More Naked Women

It says a lot about the state of our relationship to our bodies that I cried from watching this simple video (embedded below) about a simple photo project: Jade Beall is putting together a book of real, untouched black and white photographs of real women’s bodies. Looking at these gorgeous images, with all their supposed “flaws,” you realize how seldom we see other non-model women’s bodies. You also realize how critical it is that we do so.

We’re so used to thinking that women’s bodies are for straight men’s enjoyment that we forget there could be real advantages to presenting images of the naked form outside of Victoria’s Secret ads and Playboy pictorials. This is where women’s bodies, and even sexuality, truly becomes empowerment. I recently did a boudoir photo shoot with my sister, Julie, who runs Chicago Doll Photography, and it is empowering, as a real woman, to treat yourself like a model in the good ways.

You don’t have to objectify yourself to feel the effect; there’s simply a power in treating yourself as worthy of being photographed this way, as if you are as “beautiful” as those VS models. It starts sounding cheesy pretty fast here, of course: You are beautiful! You do deserve it! That’s only because the ad industry has taken these images and these ideas from us and used them to sell products to us that supposedly make us more beautiful since advertising began.



Empowering Afghan Women

witw-logo-300x30Women in Afghanistan still suffer some of the worst gendered conditions in the world: forced marriages, lack of education, and conditions far beyond anything we can encapsulate in even those awful-sounding soundbites. One of our favorite organizations works to empower women there through fostering and publishing their writing about their lives, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Another idea: Giving women there economic power by fostering sales of their crafts. Read more at The Daily Beast’s Women in the World.


Feminism Through Art: Meet Hangama Amiri

03_HAmiri_The-Wind-Up-Dolls-300x300Looking at the painting, “Girl Under the Taliban,” (left) by Hangama Amiri is like being slapped across the face with a reality check. In it, a young woman sears a determined stare into the viewer’s mind with one eye while the other burns with fire. She’s clutching a textbook in one hand and a burqa in the other. It assaults you with its literal message of oppression, but confounds even more with its rich complexity. It’s the story of Nargis, a 13-year-old Afghan girl banned from seeking education under the Taliban. It is not a unique story, but it’s one that isn’t being told nearly enough.

“Girl” is the third in the series, “The Wind-Up Dolls of Kabul,” by artist Hangama Amiri. She has made it her mission to tell stories about Afghan women through her work.

Amiri could have had the same story as Nargis–or one much worse. Her family fled Afghanistan in 1996 when the Taliban took over. She spent several years as a refugee and finally settled in Canada, where she went to college, became an artist in residence and began her career. “The Wind-Up Dolls” series is Amiri’s first solo exhibition and has come to define her feminist identity as well as the arc of her artistic vision.

She talks to Sexy Feminist about her inspirations, the concept of feminism in Afghanistan, and the way art is an important part of the global discourse on the treatment of women.


Link of the Day: Afghan Women’s Lives in Prison


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.

Amy Schumer, Mindy Kaling, and the Evolution of Girl Humor

600x400_insideamyschumer2Given the early coverage before the debut of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer this spring, I figured we were in for another dirty-girl comedian — Schumer was most often compared to Whitney Cummings and Sarah Silverman. I don’t dislike either of those ladies, but both of them, when at their best, retain the whiff of women trying to make it in a man’s comedy world. Of course, it is a man’s comedy world, and I can’t blame them, and I loooved every bit of the shock value of The Sarah Silverman Program. (I also happen to enjoy the show Cummings co-created, 2 Broke Girls. We won’t talk about Whitney.) Cummings and Silverman do the comedy equivalent of business women wearing hyper-masculine, shoulder-padded suits in the ’80s as they fought their way to boardroom levels: They made it in an astonishingly male-dominated profession by out-boying the boys.

Schumer and the also-rising talent Mindy Kaling represent a subtle shift, however, from Cummings and Silverman. They don’t shy away from indelicate topics like sex or body humor — because most modern women are a few steps beyond Jane Austen-style manners. But they don’t try to beat the guys at their own game, either. Kaling showed with her Fox sitcom The Mindy Project this season that she can do a killer awkward-shower-sex scene and poke elaborate fun at women’s love-hate relationship with romance. Schumer’s show, which is wrapping up its first season, takes a similarly female approach — not “female” humor like an eye-rolling Cathy comic strip, but humor that’s simply unique to a heterosexual person with a vagina coming of age during the early 2000s. She gives us a sketch on, for instance, “porn from a female point of view,” which shows mostly how ridiculous (and occasionally gross) sex is for women, all hairy chests coming at them and being slammed repeatedly from behind. This stands in stark contrast to those “porn for women” send-ups that show men with waxed chests doing housework. Because, ha ha, women have no desires beyond a clean house! Schumer acknowledges both female desire and the silliness of what we must endure to fulfill it. And don’t even get me started on the sketch about the guy who falls in love with her because of her terrible perm. You just need to see it.

In fact, you just need to see both The Mindy Project (now in summer reruns!) and Inside Amy Schumer. They both make great summer viewing.


The Feminism of ‘Soul Train’

35_soul train dancerTalented Friend of Sexy Feminist Lauren Ramidrew this tremendous illustration of a Soul Train dancer (don’t you want to frame it and put it in some inspirational place in your apartment?) in homage to the women she loves to watch on the quintessential ’70s dance show. She wrote us a guest post about what inspired her.

I really, really love ’70s-era Soul Train. The powerful soul and funk music. The innovative, talented Soul Train Gang. The laid-back, effortlessly cool style. I’m fascinated by early seasons of the show for many reasons, but especially by how surprisingly feminist they were.

Now, I have no idea how women were being treated behind the scenes. While the cameras were rolling, though, the gender equality on that 1970s dance floor was remarkable. Dance moves weren’t gender-specific (the funky penguin didn’t discriminate), clothing was pretty unisex, and almost everyone danced independent of each other. No exploitation. No sexualization. Just people being together and expressing their love for music and dance. Unfortunately, this level playing field seemed to fade somewhere in the ’80s, after the onset of music videos…

The woman I’ve sketched above was a standout on one of my all-time favorite episodes, filmed in 1972. I don’t know her name, but I do know she was a dynamic, athletic, creative, and skilled performer. She was portrayed on the show as a dancer first and a woman second.

This illustration is my way of paying homage to the world Don Cornelius created in the early ’70s. Love, peace and soul.


HBO’s ‘Love, Marilyn’ Gives Us a Thinking Sex Symbol

All hail Marilyn Monroe as the thinking girl’s icon trapped in a sex goddess’ body.

Feminists have long been fascinated by the life and death of the self-made siren, who came from nothing and became anything Hollywood wanted her to be so she could rise to fame. (Gloria Steinem wrote a book about her at the peak of her own notoriety as a women’s lib leader.) What Hollywood wanted, of course, was a sex symbol of mythic proportions, and it got just that from her. If it also wanted a source of endless material for years after her death, it got that, too: Reams of books have been written about her from every vantage point imaginable, from Steinem to Joyce Carol Oates to murder conspiracy theorists to Norman Mailer and the many men who admired her. Smash dedicated two ill-fated seasons to a fictional musical about her life. Michelle Williams, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, and Madonna are among the many who have played the star in one way or another.

What’s well-covered territory feels fresh again in HBO’s new documentary, Love, Marilyn. I started watching it out of a sense of obligation, as a feminist and pop culture writer. But I came away feeling, for the first time, what it was like to be Marilyn, a sensation strangely absent from every other depiction I’ve ever seen. I loved Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn, but even that performance, which depicted her exquisite sadness and loneliness, still couldn’t convey to me why she was so sad and lonely. It also couldn’t show me how smart she was, and, perhaps more poignantly, how smart she wanted to be in a world that wouldn’t let her.


The She Hulk-Mary Tyler Moore Connection

Marta Acosta, the author of  The She-Hulk Diaries, guest blogs here about her heroines — She-Hulk and The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s Mary Richards.

Sometimes we think we’re the only ones still crazy about an old television series. We channel surf and always stop when we see the images we love, listening to dialogue that still makes us laugh. The Husband says, “Haven’t you seen that before?” and I say, “Haven’t you seen documentaries about the Ottoman Empire before?” Because, really, no matter how many of those documentaries he’s seen, he’s never been able to explain the Ottoman Empire connection to footstools, so what exactly is the point? Okay, I’m going to get back to this in a minute.

When I began my novel The She-Hulk Diaries, based on the iconic Marvel character, writing about a snarky, sexy 6’7” green party girl superhero was easy as pie. (Theoretical pie because I have never mastered making a crust, which my pie-shop owning neighbor recently informed me is a genetic ability. But I digress.) She-Hulk, aka Shulky, is as big, bold, and badass as she wants to be. However, I struggled to find the authenticity in her human identity, Jennifer Walters, a highly-accomplished and painfully shy attorney. I was stepping into more than 30 years of She-Hulk canon, but most of it centered on Shulky and all of it was written by men. I wanted to give Jennifer Walters the attention she deserved.


Why I Loved ‘Behind the Candelabra’

Most critics reviewing HBO’s Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra mentioned director Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant decision to temper the flamboyance of Liberace’s life with a gritty and unflinchingly realistic framing of the story. Even the slightest tic toward taking the movie over the top could’ve felt like farce, and besides, there was plenty of over-the-topness in the story — the sets, the costumes, the plastic surgery. Maybe Soderbergh overcompensated a little, thus sapping a bit of the joy Liberace clearly took in sparkly and ornate things. But I liked his approach more than the alternative.

Because he shot it like any straightforward, serious biopic, he instead brought out both the intimacy and the intensity of Liberace’s relationship with Scott Thorson. He also, through that relationship, focused on the politics underlying their lives, and thus the lives of many gay men in the ’80s. The closest they could get to being married was for Liberace to adopt Thorson, a bizarre realization that ought to send everyone running to do whatever we can to get gay marriage legalized. And how heartbreaking to see people still trying to pretend, even after Liberace’s death, that the great love of his life was a woman! There’s something so devastating about not being acknowledged for your place in your great love’s life — even as an ex-spouse, you get some recognition at the funeral for your loss.

And, oh, the vanity! Being gay and famous made Liberace, and thus Thorson, as vulnerable to the pressure to be beautiful and young as women are. I loved the brutal cosmetic surgery sequences — I couldn’t even watch them, which I think is a good thing. We too rarely acknowledge how painful cosmetic procedures are — calling them “nips” and “tucks,” cutesy names that make us forget that this is major surgery. Not to mention that this is the creepy end result. Something about seeing men go through this on screen makes a difference, too, highlighting the inherent weirdness of it all because we’re not as used to it.

Most of all, the film normalized even a rather bizarre relationship between two men, something we could stand to see more of as we march toward the (hopefully) inevitable breakthrough of legalized gay marriage.


Gendered TV: Is ‘Game of Thrones’ for Boys, ‘Girls’ for Girls?

wallpaper-cersei-1600Pop quiz: Whom is the show Game of Thrones“made” for?

A.    Men

B.     Women

C.     All people

“All people” seems like the obvious choice, right?  No one involved with the show – not HBO, the network that broadcasts it, not showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and certainly not George R. R. Martin, author of the books upon which the show is based – has ever said that the show is intended only for a certain gender.

And yet, some critics seem to be under the impression that Game of Thrones is a “man’s show,” and that it does not appeal to women.  In one of the earliest reviews of the show, New York Timestelevision critic Ginia Bellafante argued that the showrunners include romance plots and sex in the show “out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.”  Bellafante goes on to state that women are uninterested in fantasy and that Game of Thrones is “boy fiction.”  More recently, in one of the worst-argued pop culture pieces I’ve ever read, Renata Sellitti of Thrillist made the sweeping generalization that women don’t like the show because it caters solely to men with its ickiness, swordplay, and nakedness.  Sellitti’s arguments were made without citation to any evidence and were insulting to both women (one of her arguments was that the plotlines are too complicated to follow) and men (they only like the show because it’s “gross” and features lots of naked breasts).

This idea that television shows, or, for that matter, any work of popular culture, is meant to be consumed by only one gender is one that needs to be eliminated.  It is not only insulting to both genders, it is bad for our culture.  Many people who would otherwise enjoy a work will dismiss it based on a silly prejudice, and many potentially great works will go unproduced out of fear that not enough people will consume it because of said prejudice.


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

I’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.


Links For Sexy Feminists: Oscars’ Opening Fallout, Sephora Addiction, Body Acceptance, and more

Solve for XX: For a nice antidote, check out this talk by Geena Davis on media portrayals of women and girls.

Makeup Addiction?: Sephora can be fun, but beware: it’s an expensive habit. To keep it fun, moderation is key!

Women’s Health: Heart disease is a leading cause of death for women, yet too many people see it as a “men’s issue.”

The Body Beautiful: You don’t have to fall for the trap of trying to lose weight specifically because you’re getting married. Find a bit of courage from photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero, who documents others’ reactions to her body. From a medical standpoint, this article offers insight intohow doctors should approach a “weighty” conversation.


5 Feminist Shows to Watch This Winter

BunheadsGet your teen show fix from Amy Sherman Palladino’s returning ABC Family ballet drama, which is rife with great female characters of all ages. Will it change your life? No, but the banter will make your head spin.

Game of ThronesSticking by this one, too. The women of Westeros are getting more kick-ass by the second. We can barely even remember the dudes anymore.

Girls: Yep, we’re sticking by this one, backlash or not. It’s a great, gritty, realistic portrait of female friendship. It talks frankly about sex — and abortion, and HIV — like no show before it. Lena Dunham, love her or hate her, is a revelation, both for her balls-out writing style and her willingness to bare it all, literally, on screen, despite her unconventional (for Hollywood) body type.

The Good Wife: This show is so consistently good it makes us angry sometimes. And it’s feminist without wallowing in it. The amazing thing is that we stop thinking about “strong” female characters and just take them in when we’re watching. Afterwards, we realize how wonderfully varied, flawed, and admirable they are.

Portlandia: Yeah, they make fun of feminist bookstore owners, but in a loving way. And, hey, at least it’s a way to tackle feminism on TV! More importantly, Carrie Brownstein is a feminist goddess, and this show is just further proof. She rocks and does goofy comedy at least as well as the boys.


Links for Sexy Feminists: Gay marriage, ‘The Year of Heroine Worship,’ and more …

More gay marriage: Meanwhile, same-sex couples started getting legally married in Washington State this weekend. And Jezebel has a piece by a woman who grew up with two moms.

‘Year of Heroine Worship?’: New York Times critic A.O. Scott heralds 2012 as a golden age of strong female leads. New York mag’s The Cut says not so fast.

Gwen and Gavin are our aspirational-couple heroes: They are never allowed to break up. Here is some video of them singing “Glycerine” on stage together, via The Frisky, to reassure you that they are still awesome and together.

Feminist Charities to Give to for the Holidays (or Anytime, Really)

Afghan Women’s Writing Project: Pairs Afghan women who want to express their truth, speak out about their lives, and perfect their language skills with American writing mentors. The resulting blog is eye-opening, heartbreaking, and inspirational.

Feminist Majority Foundation: A giant, umbrella activist organization whose name was inspired by a Newsweek/Gallup poll that showed the majority of women identified with the feminist agenda.

The Fistula Foundation: An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 women each year suffer from fistula, a horrifying injury in childbirth because of subpar medical care. This charity works to help them get the care they need.

International AIDS Vaccine Initiative: Funds scientific research with this goal in mind.

National Partnership for Women & Families: Reproductive justice, health care, and work-family initiatives.

Planned Parenthood: Reproductive and sexual health care for all.

The Polaris Project: Combats human trafficking.

RAINN: The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

V Day: This group fights violence against women and girls throughout the world; its major fundraiser is an annual reading of The Vagina Monologues.

Sexy Feminists Read: Julie Zeilinger’s ‘A Little F’d Up’

JulieZeilingerBookHeadshot-199x300We’ve wanted to be Julie Zeilinger when we grow up ever since she launched the feminism-for-teens website TheFBomb.org. Never mind that she’s still under legal drinking age. The Barnard student and author of the new book A Little F’d Up talked to us about embracing your feminism, the Fourth Wave, and body image.

The subtitle of your book is “why feminism is not a dirty word.” We know why we think it’s a great word — but how about you? As a young feminist, why do you think it’s important not just to have feminism, but to call ourselves feminists?

I call myself a feminist not only because I identify with and support the movement, but as a teenager I found that my peers simply hadn’t been exposed to that many people who outwardly called themselves feminists. They hadn’t been exposed to or educated about feminism and therefore relied on negative stereotypes or just remained ignorant about it. By calling myself a feminist, I found that I was able to raise awareness about it and educate those who asked me about my identity. However, I have never felt that one has to label themselves a feminist to be involved in the feminist movement or to believe in and fight for feminist issues. I recognize that there are people who would rather not label themselves in any way and I think that’s fine as long as they’re educated about these issues and are willing to fight for their rights. Of course, I think that if somebody does label themself as feminist they’re much more likely to be invested in this movement and put themselves on the front lines of the issues we fight for, but at the same time I’m not sure fretting over the label is the most important thing we should be worried about right now as a movement.

There’s a lot of talk among feminists right now about what the “fourth wave” of feminism stands for, and whether there even is a fourth wave. What are your thoughts on that? What makes your generation of feminists different from previous generations?

I’m not really a huge fan of the “wave” model just because I think feminism is a continuous movement. It’s a movement that’s constantly evolving and our short-term goals may differ from those of feminists past, but our ultimate goal of equality is still the same. However, if there is a “fourth wave” I think it would probably be defined by our use of the internet, social media, and blogging. In the past decade or so, a lot of feminist activism and organizing has taken place largely online. We’ve created communities through blogs, have created social change through petitions and email campaigns targeting corporations, politicians, etc. and demanding change in huge numbers. The vastness of the internet has allowed us to connect to women all over the world – to share our experiences and ideas – and I think in a lot of ways it has democratized the feminist movement in that anybody with a compelling voice and message has the opportunity to be heard.

What do you see as the biggest problems facing young feminists today? What are the big issues we need to be tackling?

On the FBomb, we’re constantly talking about body image and the pressures young women feel to fit a certain ideal of beauty. It’s a very real and consuming issue for my generation and I fear it’s only getting worse due to the perpetuation of these images – ads surround us and our generation is consuming more media than any generation before us. However, I think especially considering the upcoming election and the political climate of the past year, reproductive rights is a really pressing issue my generation needs to focus on right now. It’s depressing to think that the same issue feminists in the ’60s and ’70s were fighting for is still very much relevant today, and that the rights that were won in the Second Wave are at stake but I think my generation is going to have to play an integral role in defending these rights. Politically, the majority of us are on the same page: a recent survey showed that 88% of us support comprehensive sex education and 64% support access to legal abortion. It’s just a matter of us really rallying behind and organizing around this issue.

Have you seen changes in the modern feminist landscape even just during your last few years of blogging? And how has running your blog affected your view of feminism?

I think because the FBomb is based on submissions from teen girls and boys from all over the world, I – as well as all readers of the FBomb – have been given a really comprehensive picture of my generation’s relationship with feminism in a way that isn’t quite replicated on any other site that only features the writing of one or a few people. I think a couple of broader themes have emerged from the vast array of content we’ve posted over the past couple of years, the most predominate being that feminism, for my generation, is about combating much more subtle issues today. Whereas feminists of years past were fighting for really concrete political and economic rights (and while, indeed, many of those fights still continue today), I believe the issues my generation deal with don’t always have a blinking arrow pointing them out as discrimination or inequality. Street harassment is a good example of this. There have been so many posts written on the FBomb about street harassment, and there are inevitably comments written on those posts that basically say they hadn’t even considered it to be a feminist issue – they just felt it was something annoying that made them feel uncomfortable, but something they also just largely considered an inevitability of being a woman. It didn’t occur to them that it was a feminist issue and was something they could rally to do something about. This has definitely impacted the way I approach feminism in that I think the key for continuing feminism in my generation is education. We can’t just assume young women understand feminism or have even heard of it, but I have faith that once young women are exposed to it in a comprehensive way, they’ll identify with it more often than not.

Are there one or two lessons in your book that stand out for you? What do you most want girls to take away from your book?

The last chapter of A Little F’d Up describes how feminism helped me – and how I believe it can help all of my peers – on a personal level, and more than anything else I really hope I can impart that to my peers. Young women often view feminism as something very broad and political, which it certainly can be, but I really want young women to understand that it’s much more individualized than that, too. I specifically focus on the positive way feminism helped me learn to love my body, to negotiate my relationships and stand up for my own needs and how it strengthened my female relationships and helped me understand why young women often compete with and tear down each other but also how overall it just made me a stronger, more confident and ultimately happier person. In the end, to me, that’s what feminism is all about.

How Not to Start Your Own Website

website-300x74Launching your own blog or online magazine provides one of the best venues for you to hone and showcase your own vision, voice, and views. (Like we do here!) In short, it’s a way to make an outspoken lady’s dreams come true, almost instantly, at very little cost (if you do it right). It might not make you rich, but it could make you a known rabble-rouser, promote your soapbox issue of choice, give you a chance to build a community of like-minded women, look cool on your resume, and even lead to a book deal. (Look for our book, Sexy Feminism, out next year.)

It did all of that for us when we started SexyFeminist.com together six years ago. But it also caused us a lot of headaches we didn’t anticipate. We want to stop you from going through what we did, so we’re sharing what we learned. Here are our top 10 things you shouldn’t do while starting a website—and remedies for making them right:

1. Don’t get ahead of yourselves. In the early stages of planning our launch, we spent more time than we’d like to admit envisioning the outfits we would wear on the Today show when they inevitably called us for an interview about our groundbreaking vision for an edgy women’s site. While we were right that we were a little ahead of our time, we were wrong to think it mattered where we bought our power suits. And to think any media outlet was going to magically show up at our door begging to cover us.

2. Don’t set unrealistic publishing goals that will discourage you and stress you out. Unless you’re independently wealthy or have financial backing, you probably have at least a day job, if not a day job plus other projects plus a personal life plus a basic human need to eat and sleep. At the beginning, we considered such absurd ideas as having at least a post a day; as things progressed we realized we couldn’t even handle a post a week at certain times in our lives. (Like when we were working full time while writing books, planning weddings, having babies, or running marathons.) Now that we’re freelancers, we can handle a few posts a week, but our disillusionment back in the early days almost made us quit. Just blog when you can blog!

3. Don’t think you have to do everything yourselves. The happy/sad truth (happy for you, sad for writers) is that a lot of writers will work for free under the right circumstances. Guilt your friends into writing. Give writers you know a chance to cover topics they don’t usually get to but feel passionate about. Hire “interns,” who are really just young people who will work for free, and give them a chance to do the kind of work they need to build their resumes. We love our interns.

4. Don’t set up your blog on unfamiliar software, particularly if it doesn’t have a tech support line. We’re on WordPress now and adore its user-friendliness. This was not the case on the first platform we used, and we paid for it. More than once, we actually “broke” our own site and spent days wondering if all our hard work would ever reappear online. There’s no excuse for this, especially with the software available now.

5. Don’t get too caught up in design. We hired a friend’s husband at a very reasonable price to design our now-gorgeous site. But if you don’t know someone who can do this, don’t worry too much. Pick one of the many great templates available online and start blogging. If you eventually make enough money on an ad service (think: Google ads, BlogHer), you can hire someone to make you a logo, but don’t go crazy. No one cares that much about your aesthetics if you’ve got great content.

6. Don’t think you know anything about tax law.

You’ve done your research; you’ve looked up every official IRS document applicable to starting a small business (which is what you’re doing if you plan to ever run an ad on your website) and think you’ve got it covered. Think again. Tax laws are multilayered, complex, confusing beasts filled with loopholes and special circumstances that could end up costing you thousands of dollars or triggering an audit. Starting your own website is hard enough without a visit from the IRS.

If funds for a proper tax attorney are unavailable (and let’s assume that), worry not. There are many resources for small businesses to get the expert input they need. A favorite—and savior—of ours isSCORE. The free, nonprofit service pairs newbies like you with mentors—attorneys, accountants, lawyers, CEOs, and scads of extremely knowledgeable and caring individuals who are, let’s face it, way smarter than you about this stuff. Say you have a question, such as, “Should I incorporate my two-person, content-based, non-retail, not-profitable website in the state of California?” They will kindly tell you it might cost you a fee of around $350 and an unexpected annual tax bill of around $800. We wish we’d talked to them before we found this out the hard way and went to them to fix it.

7. Don’t have a nebulous concept that can’t be articulated in a clear title.

We’re writers. We like interesting words. This is a great asset as you create the content for your new website, but it can be a liability when you complete the simple, essential task of naming it. Before you buy a domain, order 2,000 business cards and customize cute T-shirts with your new site’s name emblazoned on them, be certain that you’ve chosen wisely. And wisely means that the name of your website needs to explain what said website contains. Personal blogs can be nonsensical, but if you want people to find your site and remember its content, “simple, straightforward, and clear” is your mantra.

When we first launched our “women’s lifestyle with a feminist twist” website, we called it Sirens, inspired by strong, iconic female historical characters. Now it’s called The Sexy Feminist. Which of these actually says anything about the content of the site? It took us six years to get it right.

8. Master self-promotion—the right kind.

Many creative types—writers especially—are introverted, preferring to practice their craft without much fanfare. To put it frankly: We can suck at self-promotion. But it’s more necessary now than ever, especially if you’re running a site you hope other people will read. And you don’t need an elaborate ad campaign to do it. Here are just three steps that will guarantee spikes in traffic:

  • Make friends with other bloggers and offer to cross-post items.
  • Email relevant content links to bigger sites in your field suggesting they link to your story.
  • Tweet everything—not just your new content links, but 120-character quips about news and thoughts relevant to your website’s focus. Make Pinterest boards thematically linked to your content.

9. Know what your money is buying.

Startup money is scarce, especially for those of us not inventing the next Google. If you don’t plan to make a lot of money from your website (and most don’t), then you needn’t stress about raising seed money for startup. You won’t need much anyway. You have to buy a domain name and a hosting package, then just put the site up, which can be done using free software such as WordPress.

A note on web developers: Bless them, but some create more problems than they solve, especially if they are the only ones who can solve the problems they themselves create. Make sure you really,really need any service before investing in it.

10. Don’t make things harder on yourself than you need to. This is supposed to be at least a little fun, right?

Please see all of the above.

The Best Feminist Holiday Gifts

The holiday season is in full swing, but the gift buying has just begun. If the crowds on Black Friday weren’t quite your style, we’re here to help: Here, we present you with our first ever feminist holiday gift guide.

The gifts on this list give you many different options; some contribute funds to a worthy cause, others are from small businesses run by women, and some gifts promote various feminist principles. But they all have one thing in common: they’re gifts you can feel good about giving. Let the shopping begin!
Have a feminist gifting option to add to our list? Tell us in the comments below!