Sexy Feminists Read: ‘Airbrushed Nation: The Lure & Loathing of Women’s Magazines’

airbrushednation-f-web-200x300We’re sometimes-proud, sometimes-guilty junkies of women’s magazines, so we couldn’t wait to get our hands on Jennifer Nelson’s new book Airbrushed Nation, in which she givesGlamour, Cosmo, et. al. a critical once-over. We talked to Nelson about the good, the bad, the unrealistic, and the terrifying behind the glossies that rule so many women’s lives.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned about women’s magazines in researching this book?

I’d have to say what was most surprising was how I hadn’t even noticed that every topic was approached from a “women aren’t good enough as is” mantra. All the articles from relationship pieces to sex tips to dieting, beauty, aging, even health and money stories are approached as though women need to fix something about themselves, or everything about themselves. This is very different than how men’s magazines approach their stories. There, they think men are just glorious as they are, and they simply offer up articles to inspire, inform, provide humor, or entertain them. Women’s magazines call their books “service,” which is supposed to mean that the stories provide advice and a take away for everything you read, but service has really become another word for makeover.

Why is it so important to look at what women’s magazines are doing? Does anyone take them seriously anyway?

Well, yes actually, that’s the problem—women are taking them seriously apparently. Research has found that after one to three minutes of paging through a chick slick, women feel worse about themselves than they already did. And that three quarters of the cover lines on these magazines provide at least one message about altering your body via beauty products, dieting, exercise or cosmetic surgery. That’s a lot of negative messaging women absorb for simply
browsing through the silky pages. Young women and girls seem to be most affected but that’s where it starts—when we’re young. No matter which magazine you read from Seventeen to Good Housekeeping, typically thought of for older women, the message is the same, the mantra that we’re not good enough and that every photo needs to be airbrushed is drilled into our psyche from the teen years and beyond.

What’s the worst of the messages these magazines are putting out these days?

One of the biggies may be aging—or rather the lack of it. Every magazine from the twenty- something centric Cosmo to the over 40 focused More magazine spotlights the anti-aging movement. Magazines like More who run articles about empowering older woman no matter their age still stick an article on how to look younger, dress younger, act younger or apply makeup younger the very next page. What the hell, right? On the one hand, they tell us, embrace our chronological number and all that comes with it including crow’s feet and wisdom, and right next door they insist on sharing the best ways to act, look, appear and think younger. And almost worse, is that the twenty-something magazines like Cosmo, who’s readers show no visible signs of aging as of yet get an up close and personal look on how they should begin their anti-aging assault as well. These women are being hawked eye serums and wrinkle creams along with their mothers and every other beauty article is about anti-aging. It’s certainly both an advertising-driven paradigm as well as a cultural phenomenon that is wreaking havoc with women’s self esteem and beauty ideals.

You’ve written for tons of these magazines. What inspired you to write this? And were you afraid of never getting work again from them?

Ha! Yes, it is pretty much my exit out of writing for women’s magazines. But truth be told, I had already made the shift over the past couple of years. The year before I wrote the book, I had written exactly two pieces for them, and the year I wrote the book, none. The reasons were two-fold, one because as I began dissecting them more and more and realized what negative messaging they continue to perpetuate, I began to distant myself a bit from wanting to write those kinds of stories and contribute to that message. And secondly, the women’s magazines don’t have such a stellar reputation for being great places for writers to work. It can take months to get your ideas vetted and accepted, editing is often a long, drawn out process that can take months and involve several editors and a few rewrites and finally, getting the article approved and a check cut can take even longer. Writers sometimes wait from 6-12 months to finally get paid. It’s a somewhat difficult and arduous process fraught with obstacles.

What do you think is the genuinely best women’s mag for women, and why?

I don’t know if I can offer a “best” since that’s probably subjective but I can offer a few suggestions and why. A magazine like Real Simple, which still covers some fashion (albeit, mostly minus the airbrushed models) as well as traditional women’s magazine fodder like food, crafts, home décor and essays is a good example of a magazine getting it mostly right. It’s often missing the “you must improve yourself” mindset as well as the offending digitally manipulated
images, and so overall it gets top marks. Better Homes & Gardens may be a close second with a focus on the home and its surroundings with a few of the traditional lady topics thrown in. But women should ask themselves if paging through their favorite glossy makes them feel worse about themselves afterward, and if so, they might take a magazine sabbatical, or simply look for those magazines that may carry content of interest: food, décor, money, essays without so
much of the negative messaging and airbrushed ideals.

What’s the future of women’s mags? Will we ever get more variety and depth from them, or are we doomed to eye shadow and weight loss stories forever?

Well, first, I don’t think women’s magazines are ever going away. Despite recessionary periods, e-readers, and the fabulous proliferation of online magazines, women’s print glossies will remain. They’re iconic and each generation has embraced them similar to the way our mothers and grandmothers did. But I do think they will have to move toward more depth and less of the controversial coverage we see today. We are making small inroads. Girls petitioned Seventeen
magazine and met with their editor in chief asking them to stop airbrushing the teen girls in the pages—and the magazine complied. Glamour magazine also vowed this year to stop altering a woman’s body via Photoshop. These are huge improvements, but of course, there is still a lot of work to be done on the article content and the messaging that women aren’t good enough as they are. I think the only way we will get more depth from them is to demand it. Women need to consider that their subscription dollars and newsstand change make a difference. Buy into magazines you feel are getting it right and let those that aren’t know how you feel. Facebook them, Tweet them, send an email to the editor-in-chief. Social media is a powerful tool women have at their disposal. It’s only by the masses letting them know we want more than eye shadow and makeup tips or blatant sexist questions in every celebrity or woman politician interview that the magazines will know that we want more.

Sexy Feminist Halloween

We won’t reiterate our feelings on all the “sexy” Halloween costumes being trotted out again this year. You know how we feel.

Instead, we wanted to offer up some totally badass feminist costume ideas, and ask you to share your own.

Hillary Clinton in “Texts From Hillary.” Going as the Secretary of State is feminist and awesome in itself, but going as her meme garners the type of pop culture hilarity that every costume aficionado dreams of.

Liz Lemon. Imagine the possibilities!: Liz as Princess Lea trying to get out of jury duty. High school science geek Liz with an awesome ‘fro. Liz with Tom Selleck, her mustache. Sex hotline Liz. Liz inadvertently stealing a baby (no sitter needed for the night!)… Plus, she’s the most feminist imaginary person we’ve had on television since Mary Richards.

Mary Richards. You get to dress warm (in adorable vintage threads no less) and throw a beret in the air. You’ll also be going as Oprah’s hero, so major feminist points there.

Zombie, Vampire, Monster, etc. No need to add “sexy” to these classic spooky costumes. They’re always in style, totally DIY and (unfortunately) surprising at a party.

Objectifying Men: Is Turnabout Fair Play?

Objectifying men has been sneaking around the edges of mainstream pop culture for a while now:Sex and the City, for one, made it an art form. (Think: the throwaway quality of the man-of-the-week for the first few years of the series, the lingering camera shots on Gilles Marini in the first Sex and the City movie.) Everything targeted at women, from Cosmo to Dancing With the Stars, has used shirtless men to lure hapless young women and housewives.

But we have rarely seen objectification of men as a main event on the order of Magic Mike, the Channing Tatum film about male strippers that opened this week to great media fanfare (thanks,New York Times, for reporting from the land of “duh” that many gay men are enjoying the film), reports of “girls night out” gone wild, and solid box-office receipts. We’re thrilled for any of our fellow ladies to get in touch with their sexuality, and even to appreciate the male form. We love hot men, too, and, yeah, drooling over guys is a good stress reliever. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with making a movie about the lives of strippers, male or female. But is there no way for us to just be a little more civilized here, girls? We wouldn’t want mags and websites reporting on a lady-stripper movie with giggly photo captions like, “Sorry—are we objectifying you, Channing?” But Glamour did, and they’re hardly alone.People did a “Hump Day” slide show of Magic Mike costar Joe Manganiello, complete with terrible pun. (“He’s real. And he’s pec-tacular.”) NextMovie gave us a gallery of “8 Guys We Want to See Strip in Magic Mike 2.” Women in screenings were yelling, “Take it all off, baby!” at the screen.

Interestingly enough, two recent GQ articles offer subtle portraits of what it feels like to be a guy valued more for your body than for your work, even when your work is as beautiful as your body. Namely, it feels as shitty for them as it does for us. The delectable, and supremely talented,Michael Fassbender talks about being known for his impressive full-frontal scene in Shame. He’s done nary an interview in which someone doesn’t make a penis joke. George Clooney gently mocked him at the Oscars. (“Michael, honestly, you can play golf … with your hands behind your back.”)

He was asked to identify screen shots of famous movie penises twice, both times on MTV, for some reason. He’s handled it with good humor, but it’s also clear he’d rather not. “It’s fun to a point,” he told the magazine, “and after a certain point you worry that it kind-of detracts from the movie. But there’s nothing I can do. I just have to laugh it off. I can. Pretty much. Because I take my work seriously but I can’t take myself too seriously.” Sure, but should he have to endure what is, essentially, sexual harassment just to seem like he’s not taking himself too seriously? That sounds like shit guys used to say to women in the ’60s after telling them at the office that they had nice tits, and, hell, they oughta just smile and take the compliment.

R&B singer D’Angelo didn’t adjust quite as well to the drooling he induced with his muscled, naked, artful, and, yes, very sexy 2000 video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel?).” Once the video made him a mainstream star, however, his entire tour was overrun with women shouting “Take it off!” at him onstage. “We thought, okay, we’re going to build the perfect art machine, and people are going to love and appreciate it,” said Questlove, the tour’s bandleader. “And then by mid-tour it just became, what can we do to stop the ‘Take it off’ stuff?” D’Angelo started cracking under the pressure to give his fans what they wanted, often delaying shows to do stomach crunches. He hated taking his shirt off for shows, but he would. “One time I got mad when a female threw money at me onstage, and that made me feel fucked-up, and I threw the money back at her,” D’Angelo told the magazine. “I was like, ‘I’m not a stripper.’” He eventually fell into an emotional tailspin that led to addiction and a dozen-year break before he made his recent new album.

Let’s be better than the men who came before us — and show them we can appreciate a good-looking guy, even a fantastic body, without being gross. That doesn’t advance any cause, feminist or otherwise.

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 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.

Ways Women’s History Is Cool

As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, we look back at some of the ways we’ve covered ladies throughout time — click on the links to read more about …

Women who served in the SS as death camp guards. Yes, even they battled sexism amid the horrific deeds they committed.

Gay women dealing with the pressures of newly legalized gay marriage. Our writer faces down suddenly being “traditional.”

Manifesta author Jennifer Baumgardner on Third Wave feminism and beyond. She’s psyched to see where the “Fourth Wave” takes us.

Feminist icons from kid culture. In summary, Miss Piggy rules.

The best feminist books of all time. There’s no better time to pick up classics like Women, Race, & Class, Backlash, and Female Chauvinist Pigs.

In Defense of Single Mothers

Single mothers have always been picked on. Not only are they doing the hardest job in the world on their own, critics call these women morally bankrupt, their “choice” a disgrace to family values and they often times find a way to link single parents to rising rates of poverty and crime.


But now we know that women have more earning power than ever (though we still have a long way to go)—more than men in some professions, and that many are postponing motherhood so that they can invest in themselves, establish a career, and offer a stable life for themselves and their children. And haven’t we finally killed that antiquated mindset that marriage is the ultimate end game for all women?

Apparently, no. A new study by the Pew Research Center shows that  most of the nation thinks single-parent households are detrimental to society.

Detrimental to society? Really? War is detrimental to society. The constant assault on women’s reproductive freedoms is detrimental to society. “The Bachelor” is detrimental to society. Loving, capable parents—one or two, gay or straight, multicultural or homogeneous—are about the best damn things our society has. We need to start supporting them in real, effective ways. Not pointing a finger of shame at them is a start. Offering affordable child care, not discriminating against working mothers, and offering them flexible job training and after-school programs for their kids are just a few others.

Studies like this always piss me off. The focus group is a tiny sliver of society (2,961 people in this case) but media attention makes these opinions speak for all of us (they don’t). And they’re hardly objective. This poll cites data that shows children who grow up in single-parent households have a greater likelihood to commit a crime or not go to college. Conduct the study a different way and you’ll see the reasons behind these trends are more directly linked to the lack of social welfare programs needed in certain low-wage, high-crime areas, the lack of adequate women’s health care and birth control, and the overall victimization and neglect of our most needy members of society.

Women become single parents for so many reasons. It’s the perfect family for some, a necessity for others. So let us cheer on the women who consciously, responsibly and excitedly choose to have children on their own—how lucky is that kid to be so wanted and loved? And let us support the women who find themselves with an unexpected pregnancy they choose to keep, and those who end a relationship for the betterment of themselves and their child. These women have a challenging road ahead and deserve the supportive Village that’s so often quoted as being necessary to raise a child, not the critical one that seems to turn its back if the baby doesn’t come from a happily married couple.

Links for Sexy Feminists: Girls in science, Catholics in birth control, and more …

Girls like science and technology: The suddenly kick-ass Girl Scouts of America released a studyshowing girls dig math, science, and technology but don’t see these lucrative fields as possible careers. We hope this means a new generation will see that programming computers is more lucrative than selling cookies. Though Thin Mints still rule.

Catholic bishops hate birth control: Of course, we already knew that, but now they’re threatening legal action against the Obama administration’s plan to make insurers cover contraception — even though this is a compromise after an earlier plan would have made religious institutions directly responsible for paying for their workers’ birth control. Sigh.

While we’re at it …: The Center for Reproductive Rights is launching an email campaign to urge the Obama administration to lift age restrictions on emergency contraception. Seriously, everyone: Why are we so into making people have unwanted kids?

Why do men love jailbait porn?: A fascinating analysis on Jezebel from Hugo Schwyzer.

Life and love after being part of the sex trade: Check out this deeply personal account at YourTango.

If you’re wondering why we shouldn’t let Chris Brown continue being a pop idol: Here are some good reasons, via Feministe, Hello Giggles, and others.

‘Thinking Gender’: WWII Sexism, Female Slave Owners and the Feminism in Salsa Dancing

ThinkingGender-233x300Salsa dancing in Taiwan. Sexism in the SS. Dowry deaths in India. Child activists in the abortion wars. Mayan women writing plays critical of the patriarchy. Female architects and textile makers. Female coal miners. Female slave owners before and during the Civil War.

All these subjects, and more, were part of the 22nd annual “Thinking Gender” conference, held at UCLA. Organized by the university’s Center for the Study of Women, the conference hosted more than 120 scholars (mostly female) from around the world. There were four sessions, each with five panels apiece. In short: A whole lot of gender relations talks to cover. Here are some of the highlights:

Gender Stereotypes

“Dirty Work: Women and Unexpected Labor.” The labor in question referred to everything from prison guards to coal miners, and this panel was well worth attending because it was both interesting and discomfiting. The first scholar to present in this panel was Shelly M. Cline, a history student from the University of Kansas. Her paper was on gender discrimination in the SS, particularly against women who guarded prisoners in the Auschwitz death camp. “The state asked them to do a man’s job, but didn’t offer them an equal partnership,” Cline said, going on to talk about how, as a result of being treated badly by their male colleagues, many of these women took out their frustrations on prisoners in increasingly terrible ways as a way to try to get respect from the men. (That is not to say, Cline added, that these women’s actions were any more brutal overall than their male colleagues’.) When WWII was over, and the Allies put these women on trial, they only won equality by being given punishments as severe as the men.

Cline’s work put an unsettlingly human face on these women who most would see as monsters. Of course, sexism in the workplace is never okay. But is oppression ever an excuse to oppress others weaker than you? And on a side topic, is brutality committed by women worse than that committed by men, since we are expected to be the gentler sex?

The questions raised by Cline’s work were also addressed in a paper by University of Houston history scholar Katie Smart. Smart explored the lives of women who owned slaves before and during the Civil War. Lots has been written about female slaveowners, and much of it paints these women as more compassionate than the males, Smart said. But when she did her own research, which included reading accounts from former slaves, Smart found this portrayal was a lie. “There was more hatred and violence than normal,” Smart said, adding that many women running plantations treated their slaves, particularly the women slaves, like cattle for breeding. Unlike enslaved men, enslaved women were also less likely to run away permanently, since they were unwilling to leave children and other family members behind on the plantation. And when they returned, they received severe punishment from their mistresses.

Reproductive Rights

The importance of female complicity in our own oppression was also touched on in a later session on reproductive rights. Jennifer L. Holland, a history scholar at University of Wisconsin, Madison presented a fascinating paper on the recruitment of children and teens by the anti-choice movement. According to Holland, one of the first anti-choice protests, held in 1967, encouraged women in the movement to bring their children to the march as tangible reminders of “abortion survivors.” Since then, anti-choice women, and their children, have become the face of the movement. One tactic for recruiting kids involved fetus dolls, which became a favored toy for little girls in the movement. For older kids, anti-choice teachers, school nurses and cafeteria ladies were known to carry around fetus models to show to high school girls who might consider abortion, Holland said. When pro-choice activists started fighting back against these tactics, the growing evangelical home schooling movement (where mothers are overwhelmingly the teachers) took children out of the possibly corrupting public school system altogether. As a result, Holland said, children are being trained as activists much younger.

Liberation In Unlikely Places.

The conference’s plenary session touched on lighter matters. I-Wen Chang, a dance scholar from UCLA, talked about salsa dancing, which is now incredibly popular in Taiwan. “Salsa breaks all the rules,” Chang said. How? Well, for these women, salsa steps are subversive, because they go against traditional Chinese ideas about how female bodies should move, Chang said. Apparently, swaying your hips is considered improper. Also, the male role in the dance is more egalitarian, so the dance is less about leading and more about partnering. But unfortunately, salsa is not quite the feminist boon to the Republic of China as one might hope. Chang added that men often partner each other, and this is seen as empowering and a way to bond socially, but that women aren’t allowed to do the same. Also, salsa clubs have become networking stations for the social elite. So, if a woman shows up at such a club without a male partner, that is a bad thing. But the men can happily show up stag and dance with each other.

Yvette Martinez-Vu, a theater scholar also from UCLA, spoke at the plenary about Mayan women in Chiapas, Mexico, and their attempts to educate and empower their fellow women through theater. A group called Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya does plays about domestic relationships in the Maya community, and those plays often highlight the sexist culture that keeps wives from making major family decisions, Martinez-Vu said, and encourages women to challenge their roles. They also offer practical solutions, such as computer and business classes, Martinez-Vu said.

The Evils of Gender Oppression

The challenges of female empowerment in a patriarchal society was a major theme at the conference. In the final session, I attended a panel where two scholars dealt with domestic violence against women in India. Roy Juhi, a global gender studies scholar at the State Unversity of New York, Buffalo, is a from Bihar, India. For her, the damage caused by India’s dowry system is personal as well as political. “I grew up with this,” she said. “A lot of my friends got married.” The dowry tradition, though officially illegal, requires the bride’s family to pay the groom’s family a certain amount (negotiated according to wealth and resources) upon marriage. Eighty percent of Indian marriages involve dowries, and far too often, the groom’s family feels cheated by this negotiation, and take out their anger on the bride, Juhi said. In the worst case scenario, they kill the bride and then claim it’s suicide. Juhi said there are as many as 2,400 dowry deaths a year, and most remain unprosecuted, because the laws protecting brides are full of loopholes favoring the perpetrators.

Even when this situation doesn’t end in murder, domestic violence is common. “Fifty-nine percent of married women in Bihar are exposed to domestic violence,” Juhi said, adding that it doesn’t help that Hindu tradition requires that women stay with their husbands no matter what. A subsequent paper, by Julia Kowalski of the University of Chicago, talked about that violence, but revealed a twist: while we often assume the abuser must be the husband, that is not always the case. Kowalski spoke of a case study where one young bride was being abused by her sister-in-law, who hit her under the pretext of training her to be a proper wife. The authorities working on the case decided that mediation was the way to resolve the problem, Kowalski said, a decision frowned upon by most domestic abuse experts who think this gives too much power to the abuser. However in this case, it helped, Kowalski said, adding that the complexities of interpersonal relationships should be taken into account when dealing wth problems such as domestic abuse.

Our Favorite Feminist Books of All Time

While researching our upcoming book, The Feminist Bombshell, we’ve picked up a lot of feminist classics — and realized that the best books hit us at deeper levels each time we re-read them throughout our lives. Here, a few that have particularly re-ignited our feminist fires. Perhaps they’ll do the same for you:


Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards: Released in 2000 (and re-released for its tenth anniversary), this comprehensive guide to feminism past and present proved that the movement was alive and well at the turn of the millennium while inspiring thousands of new Third Wavers. Bonus: an exhaustive resource list to help you find causes, publications, and organizations to put your activism into action.

Women, Race, & Class, by Angela Y. Davis: This socialist-leaning analysis of the racism behind the women’s movement — and the classism behind both the Civil Rights and women’s movements — is as mind-blowing today as it was when it was written in 1981. Alas, even our feminist heroes, including Margaret Sanger and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, leaned on racism to push their own agendas. More importantly, phenomena that Davis succinctly dissects, such as “the myth of the black rapist,” are as relevant now as they were then.

Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women, by Susan Faludi: This 1991 classic made the case that a media-driven assault on women’s rights was taking back the gains made by the feminist movement of the 1970s. As with Women, Race, & Class, perhaps the most infuriating thing about this book is its continuing relevance. “Feminism is dead” stories, female-centric consumerist culture, and conservative female “feminists” who want to take away women’s rights while bolstering their own media profiles are all more prevalent than ever. Sigh.

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, by Ariel Levy: This controversial 2005 book takes young women to task for, essentially, exploiting themselves to save patriarchy the trouble. For taking down a new manifestation of false “empowerment,” we salute this as a new classic.

A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf: The pioneering 1929 work had a simple but powerful message: To thrive creatively, women need space, time, and ideally a little money for their efforts. We’re still struggling to get all three!

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!