Girls And The Future of Feminism

Tuesday-225x300Some of the most powerful leaders of the feminist movement today are females who aren’t yet old enough to drive. They can’t get into an after-hours club to see a favorite band, order a drink, buy cigarettes or vote. But they are talking about reproductive justice, sexual expression, and political accountability better than anyone right now.

It’s slowly, but loudly becoming clear that millennials (and younger) are not only relevant to the feminist discussion, they are shaping it. The online space has exploded with blogs about teens and feminism—namely, by feminist teens. Feminist academia is understanding, on a curriculum level, that studying this demographic is essential to understanding the very history of women’s studies, and most certainly it’s future. Young girls from Austin to Afghanistan are inciting the most provocative feminist discourse right now by simply living—and defending—their convictions.

Feminism is far from dead, as headlines so exhaustingly decree. In fact, girls are killing that very idea. Consider these young ladies who are leading the way:

Tuesday Cain: This 14-year-old from Austin became the center of an Internet media frenzy by speaking up about reproductive rights—in an awesome, witty way. When the Texas legislature recently voted to approve a sweeping round of abortion restrictions for the state, Tuesday joined her parents on the Capitol steps to protest. Her sign, written on the brightest power-pink poster board, read: “Jesus isn’t a dick; so keep him out of my vagina!”

Awesome, right?

She was immediately attacked by the conservative media, jerks on Twitter, and even her own state’s legislators. They called her a whore. They called her parents child predators. They called her ugly and yelled in her face. Her dad, pictured with Tuesday in the photo, wrote this eloquent defense of Tuesday and feminism. 

She came back strong on her own with an essay on xoJane that, rather than being defensive, extended the conversation about feminism and freedom of speech:

“I’m a 14-year-old girl who has lived in Austin, Texas, my whole life. I like art, music and talking on the phone with my friends. When I grow up, I’d like to become a science teacher.

I also believe in the right to choose and the separation of church and state… That doesn’t make me a whore.”

Feminists have been called whores since before there was even a term for being a feminist. Tuesday is a child, but she makes it clear who’s mature in this situation.

“I’m not going to let someone calling me a whore stop me from fighting for what is right for all women. I’m not going to let the bullies win in the fight over women’s bodies… Normally, I prefer to look up to adults as role models. But what is happening in Texas right now it’s hard to find adults who I want to look up to.

I don’t look up to an adult who is taking away a woman’s right to choose.

I don’t look up to an adult who is calling a 14-year-old girl a whore.

I don’t look up to an adult who is screaming in my face and saying I am ugly.

And I certainly don’t look up to anyone who says they are Christian but treats women the way I’ve been treated these past few days as a teenage girl.”

Children are the best at pointing out the hypocrisy of adults. We should listen to them ore often.

Tavi Gevinson: Once a fashion phenom, more recently the creator and editor-in-chief of Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls that promotes self-esteem, self-expression and individuality, is one of today’s most influential feminists. Really. She is constantly talking about feminism—proudly—effectively making it cool for teenage girls.

“Everything we do at Rookie is filtered through a feminist lens,” she told Makers in this great profile video. The site takes on the male gaze (something teenage girls are often told to ignore), sexist media and reproductive rights. And clothes, boys, homework, celebrity crushes, and dream boards. It’s one of the pioneer spaces on the Internet that speaks to teenage girls with respect to their intellect as much as their interests (makeup and clothes, yes, but we’ll pass on the skinny/white model of beauty and sexualized butt-graphics on our shorts, thanks.)

Tavi may very well be the Gloria Steinem of the future and as someone 20 years older than she, I’d be happy to follow her lead.

Malala Yousafzai: She was shot in the face by the Taliban at age 15 for campaigning for girls’ education.

She survived, recovered, and came back fighting more fiercely than before. Her recent speech at the UN Youth Assembly (her first since her injury) had the entire conference cheering on their feet. Here’s why:

“Here I stand…    one girl among many.

I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys.

I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.

Those who have fought for their rights:

Their right to live in peace.

Their right to be treated with dignity.

Their right to equality of opportunity.

Their right to be educated.

Today I am focusing on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights rather I am focusing on women to be independent to fight for themselves.”

Malala is a beacon of hope for millions around the world, and has effectively influenced heads of state to review their policies and peace accords. But most of all, she is a young girl being a young girl, wanting nothing more than to enjoy everything that goes along with that.

These girls are a few of the many who are fighting for the most feminist right of all: the freedom to be yourself.

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.



Why Are So Many Women Veterans Going Homeless?

womanvetI just read a headline that blew my mind: “Women veterans becoming the fastest-growing homeless population in the U.S.”

There are so many things troubling about that, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that veterans in general are increasingly more likely to wind up homeless or in severe poverty once they re-enter civilian life. TheCenter for American Progress cites that 1 out of 7 homeless adults are veterans. And while the end to the war in Afghanistan is most certainly a good thing, it will bring an estimated 100,000 veterans home to live lives they may not know how to handle. Physical and mental injuries are all but guaranteed for most of them, yet social programs that support assistance such as mental health care, extended disability insurance and job training are quick to wind up on the Congressionalcutting room floor. Oh, and the VA can’t find their application forms anyway.

Female veterans are in this plight with their male colleagues, but staying on trend with all-things-woman, they are dealt an even more offensive blow. In addition to lost limbs and soaring rates of PTSD, many, many women in uniform have also endured sexual assault. The U.S. Department of Defense released a giant, damning report that reveals that women in combat are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed in the line of duty. This is not the sacrifice these women signed up for.

President Obama got pissed, sure, but how long do we have to go before we find out if the problem can be fixed? Do we have to wait for another survey?

It’s already too long for the women who have already served and suffered. We didn’t protect them then, and we’re not doing a very good job of supporting them when they come home (yes, we. We vote for politicians who make these rules). There is a highly promoted women’s site on the VA homepage now, but searching through all the benefits listed, nowhere is there anything specific about sexual assault, harassment, parenting or family planning.

Yes, this, too, is about reproductive rights. A woman who was raped in service or gets pregnant while recovering from a crippling injury or emotional trauma may, in fact, want an abortion. President Obama signed a law at the beginning of the year that killed the military’s long-standing rule of only providing health insurance for abortions if the woman’s life was at risk. Go, Obama! But, the DOD is slow to promote this policy shift. The VA’s benefits package still explicitly states that abortions are not covered.

Of course, not all female veterans returning home have been assaulted or need an abortion or even have an injury. But they’re winding up on the streets anyway. Being homeless is a tragedy for anyone, but it seems particularly harrowing for women. Where do they sleep? Where do they pee? What’s happened to their children? Are they more vulnerable now than they were on the front lines?

The new documentary, “War Zone/Comfort Zone” provides much-needed context for this growing problem. It follows the crusade of two women working to open the first transitional housing for female veterans in Connecticut, and chronicles the lives of several female servicewomen from their discharge to homeless life. It airs on PBS May 30 and can bestreamed online here. We all owe it to our veterans, our communities, and ourselves to listen to these stories, absorb their impact, and then act.

5 Funny Women To Watch Online

Funny women are bringing it on TV lately. “The Mindy Project” is kicking ratings ass. “Veep” = Julia Louis-Dreyfus is still on TV (Dear JLD: never, ever, ever stop making television)! And Comedy Central just gave its first sketch show to a woman. “Inside Amy Schumer” gets to make as many sex jokes as every other comedy show–and this time the penis doesn’t dominate. Woot!

KatieGoodman-300x199But sometimes we want our funny-woman fixright now, or at least when we’re not near our DVR. Luckily, the Web is full of comedic women. Here are five of our favorite sources for female funny.

“The Mindy Project” webisodes. Mindy Kaling’s show about a love-drunk OBGYN is one of our favorite things on television, ever. It’s both as comforting as a romantic comedy and as feminist-centric as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” At the end of every episode, we instantly want more. These bonus bits, available online for free, help to satiate while waiting for the next new show.

“Modern Lady” on Current TV. This Infomania segment picks up where the brilliant “Target Women” left off. Host Erin Gibson gives tongue-in-cheek commentary on everything from “building the perfect wife” to undergoing ear stapling to get skinny.

The Reductress. Take all the genius satire of The Onion, add a heavy dose of feminist sarcasm and you get this brilliant site. From the “funniest period tweets” to a primer on self-love “slut talk,” browsing through Reductress is like enjoying a never-ending inside joke–only this one has a brain.

Katie Goodman. This wildly talented singer/songwriter/actress leads the feminist vaudevillian troupe, Broad Comedy. But if you can’t make it to a live show, there is tons of goodness online: A podcast, music videos and feminist snark galore. It will make your day.

The Writer Jenny Lawson lets it all hang out on this uncensored blog of all things woman. She writes about motherhood, depression, she swears a lot (and in all the right places), she celebrates other woman constantly, and she tries to stop nitpicking her flaws for the sake of feminism, even though that is really hard. All of it makes you laugh till you pee a little.

Translating Female Pop Stars’ Quotes on Feminism

beyonce-092211-12-187x300The media likes to ask female pop stars about feminism. A lot. In fact, for some reason, young female singers are bombarded with this question so much that it has become its own news category. When someone like Taylor Swift or Beyonce answers the question, “Are you a feminist?”, the Internet blows up with critique. There never seems to be a right answer.

There’s a problem in both the phrasing of the question and also in these women’s comprehension of it. The media, particularly certain feminist blogs, are looking for provocative discourse and celebrities are easy targets. (Feministing subtly calls this an“annoying conversation.”) But it’s more than that. It’s problematic not only because it makes women the targets of scorn by other women, but also overlooks the bigger forces at work behind the entertainment industry that promote a patriarchal business structure and overwhelmingly value female artists for their sexuality rather than their talent.

These young women (and they are always young when they get this question for the first time) are not thinking about what it means to be a feminist at the exact moment a reporter points her microphone at them and asks them to identify with something they’re not quite sure of yet. They are not dumb, but perhaps they haven’t yet evolved into their feminist identities. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay, even for someone righteously living like a feminist without knowing it yet.

Beyonce, of course, is front and center in this conversation. Whether she’s taking charge of her own business, hiring an all-female band, talking about the injustices of unequal pay between the sexes, or writing anthems of female empowerment that will be with us for generations, it’s hard to argue against Beyonce as a feminist. She’s a goddamned feminist icon. But, yes, she did once call feminism “bootylisciousness.” And, yes, she did put a “Mrs.” on her latest tour name. And she’s famously avoided the term feminist throughout her otherwise super-feminist career.

A new interview in British Vogue asks Beyonce the feminist question again and this is what she says: “That word can be very extreme… I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality.” She also says she feels more powerful and fearless than ever and goes on to argue a very important issue facing modern feminism today: “Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are?”

There is no one (or right) way to be a feminist. And it’s that misunderstanding that fuels these young women’s misguided answers to the feminist-or-not question. And as more famous ladies avoid the term, more young ones will follow suit. Changing the perception of the label “feminist” and the feminist movement itself (the ambitious goals of this website and our new book, Sexy Feminism) is what we should all work on. If young pop stars are not sure of what the term even means, of course they’re going to avoid it.

But what if they did know? Here’s how their answers to this question might translate:

Beyonce: “[The word feminist] can be very extreme. I guess I am a modern-day feminist.”

Translation: “I am a modern-day feminist!” Hooray, the most powerful woman in pop music identifies with the movement that is still necessary to change the inequities facing women today. This is something to celebrate, not ridicule. Today’s feminism doesn’t look like the feminism of two generations ago because it doesn’t have to.

Taylor Swift: “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

Translation: “I grew up the product of two generations of feminism doing hard work so that I don’t feel less than my male peers.” The non-defeatest attitudes of young women today are powerful things. We shouldn’t stomp on them—this is what feminism has been working towards for so long! What’s missing from Swift and her peers is a bit of historical perspective and understanding of their privilege of confidence. If we can make them see feminism as relevant and cool, we can change that.

Katy Perry: “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.”

Translation: “I am at the top of the music game because I worked hard. I believe other women can do this, too. All of us women rule.” Katy has some work to do in the feminist-cred department, but she is in a powerful position in our culture because of feminism. Getting her to see that could change a lot.

There is hope for these young women—and all those on their way up sure to encounter the “feminist?” question. For proof, just look at Lady Gaga. When she first gave an “I’m not a feminist, but…” quote she was in her early twenties and new to the incredible fame that had taken over her life. It took just a few months for her to start talking in feminist terms and identifying with the label. More importantly, she started living it. Gaga is an activist as much as she is a rock star. She’s made it her mission to give voice to the voiceless, particularly young gay, trans, and bi people through her Born This Way Foundation. She talked about the importance of sex education and contraception; and when she posted these photos online, she put herself in the center of the body-hatred dialogue that surrounds all famous women. She did it for the sake of all women. She evolved quickly and purposefully, which is what Beyonce, Taylor, and (hopefully) Katy are doing as well. Let’s let them grow.

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.

‘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.

Give Love A Chance: Break Up with ‘The Bachelor’ For Good

In this guest post by Katie M. Lucas, we reveal why the number-one rated show among women is killing romance one rose ceremony at a time.

redrose-247x300The Bachelor is terrible television. It’s anti-feminist, emotionally damaging, insulting and wildly unrealistic. We all know that – even me, who up until last Monday had never watched a single episode in the 11 years the program has been running.

I finally tuned in because I was curious. Not about the actual show – I knew enough about the premise (a group of tanned, size-zero women compete for a man’s heart AND a lifelong commitment on national television) to be offended. But I wondered how and why the show had garnered a loyal following of women. Now in Season 16, The Bachelor consistently wins ratings with all key women demos; the episode I watched was the #1 program for ladies the ages 18-34.

There are plenty of reasons to watch trashy reality TV – escapism, voyeurism, even for a confidence boost. A recent survey on deduced that many loyal viewers actually turn to reality programming to “make them feel better about their own lives”. The same is likely true for The Bachelor, where single women can take solace in the fact that their beautiful peers are no less unlucky in love, while attached femmes can feel extra grateful for their committed man.

Yet with The Bachelor, there’s a larger reason that women are flipping to ABC on Monday nights: the romance. Paulina, a 20-something in a committed relationship, explained: “There are so many reasons why I am sucked in… my completely unrealistic hope to one day live out the extravagant dates they go on, the beautiful men, and of course the hopeless romantic in me relishing every moment of the love story, likely scripted, that unfolds.”

Last month, the New York Times declared “The End of Courtship”, validating the prevalence of a culture of hook-ups and the casual hang. Women look to shows like The Bachelor as a reprieve from this depressing status quo. It seems like now that traditional love stories are fading into the background, women are realizing more, or are at least more comfortable in admitting, that they want a romance of their own – a lovely idea, even for the most independent feminist. And a dream that The Bachelor and shows like it are killing one ill-fated rose ceremony at a time.

The issue is that we’re watching a connection that’s doomed to fail. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Shauna H. Springer documented how ABC manipulates the bonding process, creating lavish situations where contestants are likely to displace their feelings of love and affection to the suitor instead of their actual source – the new, exciting experience. The result is what Dr. Springer refers to as an “unsustainable collision”. It’s a rush of feelings likely to fade and fall apart, which the track record of the show ultimately reflects – not one of the couples from The Bachelor are still together.

On the episode I watched, Bachelor Sean set up a “Pretty Woman” date where he took one lucky lady shopping on Rodeo drive to pick out a dress and shoes to match the diamond earrings he bought for her. (It’s never mentioned that Julia Roberts’ character was, ahem, a prostitute.) The woman was delighted, reiterating that such treatment was “every woman’s dream.” Very quickly, this date turned into a nightmare when Sean didn’t feel the romance and sent the contestant home, devastated. As the program ended, I felt sorry for everyone involved – the bachelor for having to reject this suitors so harshly, the woman who didn’t receive a rose and even the other girls who did, who had to live in a house full of animosity and false hope. Even for the remaining women who’ll be no doubt taken on the most elaborate fairy tale-esque “dates,” the collision will always be unsustainable. The cameras turn off, the dust settles and there’s nothing real behind the scenes. For the viewers at home, the takeaway is that relationships shaped by romance are a sham.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying mindless TV or focusing on the good nuggets of kindness and connection, but these implications of The Bachelor are larger for a generation of young women. As we grasp to the last straws of traditional dating, the show projects romance as a ridiculous, orchestrated charade. The program draws a straight line from courtship to heartbreak (whether immediately after a rose ceremony or in national headlines after the finale). Even as we realize the show is scripted, this idea is absorbed into the cultural consciousness.

The Bachelor is light, easily digestible, processed fluff. It’s the TV equivalent of cotton candy – the problem is that we’re hungry for a meal of substance. The show exploits not only the idea of romance, but also the thrill of falling in love. Whether you adore or hate the show, we should all agree that we deserve more.

Katie M. Lucas is the founder and editor of

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.