Friday, December 26, 2008

Emma, 1985-2008


My co-author of GIRLdrive, close friend, and intellectual soulmate Emma Bee Bernstein died on December 20th, 2008, in Venice, Italy. Unable to give Emma a fitting tribute on GIRLdrive until now (Emma had changed the password), I am finally able to honor her after my initial shock. The past six months had been an unimaginable nightmare for Emma, as she trudged through emotional turmoil and circumstantial stress almost daily, without allowing herself a minute of respite or peace of mind.

Yet I want to believe that her despair was in spite of GIRLdrive, feminism, and our work together. During many bonding work sessions or long car rides, Emma confessed to me that this project was one of the main positive forces in her life. She cared so much about the fate of women and feminism in this country; Emma had many sides to her, but at her core was a fervently idealistic soul. I can only hope to bring forth her passion as I finish up our book, and somehow keep her misty-eyed utopianism alive amidst very real tragedy.

The other positive forces in her life, of course, were her countless loved ones. Emma touched and was touched by so many people, it's unbelievable. I've been reminded of this daily for the last six days, as dozens of people important to her have reached out to me.

Love you girl. I will miss our adventures more than you can imagine.

--Nona

---------------
Courtney Martin of Feministing, one of our GIRLdrive interviewees, has written an amazingly insightful and honest tribute to Emma, linked here.

Her close friend Sam has set up a Flickr album to remember her through photos, the medium through which Emma reflected her artistic vision.

For New Yorkers, there will be a service on Wednesday, December 31st at 10:30 am, at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel at 630 Amsterdam Ave (at 91st Street).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom

Today marks the birthday of my mother, Ellen Willis, who died on November 9, 2006. If you're a follower of this blog, you probably know that she was a major Second Wave feminist writer, critic, and activist. The best way to honor her today is by reading one of her pieces, many of which you can find simply by Googling my mother's name. Every so often I am startled by the staggering amount of fans coming out of the woodwork, to tell me how much they were influenced by her work, and how much they love and admire her.

Her life's work was one of the main inspirations for GIRLdrive, and continues to be an inspiration to me every second of every day. As my dad wrote to me in an email today:

"Ellen is always on my mind and heart. But we sometimes need markers like birthdays to help us focus for more than fleeting moments."

Yes.

--Nona

Monday, December 8, 2008

Update: Nona on The Golden Notebook

Hi guys,

Couldn't resist telling you about an interesting project that I'm involved in.  The Institute for the Future of the Book is running an online think tank funded by the MacArthur Foundation about Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, a feminist classic and, apparently, one of Barack's favorite books, as well.

Six other readers, all female critics/writers, and I are participating in a close reading of the Nobel Prize-winning author's novel, literally commenting in the margins as we read along.  Check out the website here.

-Nona

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mid-Week Memo: The Abortion Debate

Last month, when we visited Fargo and spoke with three women who worked for the only abortion clinic in North Dakota, the presidential elections had not yet been decided. One of the central issues defining the cultural war--and the difference between a McCain and an Obama administration--is the issue of choice. The women who worked at Red River Women's Clinic told us that the topic is especially sensitive in the Dakotas; although there is a strong pro-choice voice, much of North and South Dakota is vehemently pro-life. Billboards like the one below (just west of Sioux Falls) weren't unusual to spot on the side of the road.

We checked back in with two of these ladies and asked them their predictions and hopes for a pro-choice, Obama presidency. They both seemed excited and hopeful.

Becca told us:
"It would be more than fair to say that all of our staff (and probably a majority of our patients) are glad to see our choice more secure with Obama as president. I have always been proud to work at the RRWC and being connected to our community, but it is frustrating to see legislation, ND, and our country move towards conservative values that leaves women with an unwanted pregnancies and people in other situations without control over their lives. Obama gives a me peace that we have a leader that I can trust and be excited about."

In response to our questions, Dena sent us a copy of a newsletter article she wrote regarding the election outcome. Here is an excerpt from her piece:

"Many of us woke up elated November 5th and for those of us who are pro-choice, a huge factor for our bright Wednesday morning was that our nation elected a pro-choice president. We elected a man who unabashedly stated 'A woman's ability to decide how many children to have and when, without interference from the government, is one of the most fundamental rights we possess. It is not just an issue of choice, but equality and opportunity for all women.'...Obama is also a strong supporter of comprehensive sex education and government funding of family
planning...The citizens in the United States spoke loudly and clearly with the election of a pro-choice president and the defeat of anti-choice legislation in two states. With these positive changes now is the time to keep that momentum going."

Read the rest of Dena's article here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Moorhead: Beth

Beth (right, at her parents' farm): 20, lives and grew up on a farm in Moorhead, ND, second oldest of five kids, started her own business a year ago called Eden Photography, attends bible college through the Fargo Baptist church.

"I wouldn't say I was a feminist. I don't believe that women should be a doormat--we're all equal to God--but he gives us different roles. The way I see it is that if this is his will, to raise the next generation, you're going to be your happiest [raising children]...you can have your business on the side, as sort of a "fallback" I would say, but your focus is on your family and God. I don't think that certain people shouldn't get a job because they're a woman, but I do think in a marriage, you should submit. There are definitely roles for a husband and wife, and feminism would be erasing that."

Fargo: Prairie Rose

Prairie Rose (left, in her Fargo apartment): 28, member of the Fort Berthhold reservation in northwest North Dakota, grew up in Fargo, half Cheyenne/Arikara, half German-Russian, one of six kids. Former manager of the Fargo theater and now works with a local promoter, but her "passion lies with social justice issues."

"The Western interpretation [of native culture] is that women were very domesticated--they did all the housework, the skinning and tanning and building of homes. But with this comes a lot of balance...the women were the backbone of our society. The men were the skin--we can't survive without skin, and they protected us. The tradeoff was that women were responsible for education...we were the healers, the doctors, the midwives, we had power...

"[Now] Native American women suffer two or three times the rate of domestic violence, rape and incest than their Caucasian counterparts. What happened with our history is that our way of life was taken away from us...we were compassionate and equitable. But when you are a people who have lost everything, who are relocated, who are forced into this whole assimilation process, you lose yourselves--because of oppression we became the oppresors. There is a new generation are trying to bring back who we are, but it's a hard cycle to break."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

GIRLdrive hits the Dakotas!



This past weekend we headed out to the Dakotas (our first time!), visiting Fargo, Sioux Falls, Lake Andes and more... mostly gazing and gawking at the sweeping farmlands that define the region. It has been exactly a year since we first headed out on the road, and this was sadly our last official trip for book content. Roadtrip addicts that we are, though, I am sure we will be back soon enough. Until then, look forward to snippets in the coming weeks from the singular Dakotas women we had the pleasure of interviewing. Here below, sample some of our candid moments (with girlfriend Antonia) at one with the road.



Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mid-Week Memo: Nuns, Sex, and Contraception

Note: This is Part 2 in a 3-part series discussing Chastity, Purity, and Promiscuity.

Last week we met up with Katharine (below), a 23-year-old resident of Forest Park, IL, studying to be a librarian and working at a couple non-profits downtown. She also has another possible title in her future: nun. She has resolved to either fall in love with a man and devote herself to a family, or become a nun and devote herself to God and those who need help. Katharine, at first glance, does not fit any chaste stereotypes, coming across as a perfectly normal, stylish, cool twentysomething. She even told us she thought that a nun is "the ultimate feminist. They are looking at the world and saying, 'Listen, you want to care about what your clothes look like? I don't care. You want to care about making money? I don't make any money! You want to cast
down those who are burdened? I want to pick them up.' She has given up her entire life, her clothes, her cool shoes, just so that she can help people who don't have help. That's really empowering."

But she also voiced some very strong opinions about sex and what it should mean in a woman's life. Emma, in a conversation about waiting to have sex until marriage, asked Katharine: "Is it ever okay for a woman to have sex just...because?" Katharine answered:

"My view here is to look at a person's entirety. So, a person isn't simply a body, or a brain, or a soul--all of these things make up an entire person and to be separate one or all of these things would be using the other person. In the case of sex, it is the use of his or her body. To an extent it is saying, "I'd love to have fun with you, but I don't want to deal with your emotions or well being after that. You're not a person--just an object, just a body." Or, in the case of couples using contraception, "I want all of you...except your fertility. We can just throw that part out of the mix for now." But, even in a case where love is deeply involved, contraception still eliminates an aspect of the woman's whole being--fertility is written into our genetics and we can't deny it."

Our interview with Katharine was one of our best, yet another reminder that a feminist can come in many forms, one who doesn't fit the strict parameters pop culture assigns to her.



Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bitch Magazine in Trouble! Please Help


Hi guys,

We normally don't do these types of things on our blog, but this one's close to our heart. Bitch Magazine, which is run by one of our interviewees, Andi Zeisler in Portland, in in serious financial trouble. This is a kick-ass publication--filled with wit, humor, and important commentary on feminist issues. So offer your help at this link, even if it's just $5!

-N and E

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Philly: CILLE AND THEMBI

Thembi (left): 29, originally from Philly, works for an educational testing service, really wants to be a "media maven--a writer and a talking head," writes a blog called "What Would Thembi Do?", a blog about black pop culture, among other things.

"One of the main things I'm disappointed about is that women don't band together more over sexual health. Don't ever have a women's health problem, because it will destroy your life. It makes me so mad the way doctors act toward something as personal as a reproductive system--which, by the way, are half female, it's not like it's some crazy thing that we can't understand. But if there's something wrong, the doctor is not able to say anything besides, 'Wait and see what happens.'...None of this, including breast cancer and diseases that affect women, has been addressed properly."

Cille (right): 24, originally from Philly, currently working for the city in emergency management, wants to pursue a Masters in public policy and a law degree--to become the "good" Condoleezza Rice.

"I relate to the term 'womanist' more than 'feminist.' It has a spiritual essence in it that you can't really divorce from the Black female experience. Feminism is not rooted in the spirit...it's too political. Womanist thinking is always based in theology: identifying the spirit in both men and women and making them whole, but in particular it relates to Black women and how we've been able to use the spirit of the Creator to heal our families and ourselves, and to take care of people and be the breadbaskets and mules of the world. What has sustained us over that time has been a spirit, whether it be God, whether it be whatever you believe in. [For many black women] that word has a more prominent meaning than feminism does."

Monday, July 28, 2008

New York: LIKWUID


Likwuid: 26, born and raised in Columbia, SC, hip hop artist (her music linked here), personal trainer, learning how to DJ, has her own company, Royalty Media Group, which works on changing how women are viewed in hip hop.

"There are numerous women that are making great music. But if you let the industry tell it, they say, 'Oh, women don't sell, women artists are too hard to work with, you gotta do their fashion, their budgets.' I'm like, 'Please, you got men walking around with blue chinchilla coats.' The excuses that come up with women, they just don't add up. The problem really is that hip hop is so focused on objectifying women that they can't even step out and take an objective look at the situation. These women aren't selling because you're creating the same Barbie over and over again. When we had Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, it was balanced, it was beautiful, they had their individual style. Now they're taking women out of the picture and people are saying hip hop is dead. Of course it's dead! How you gonna have life with only one gender?"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mid-Week Memo: Women and Rock

In Philadelphia, we caught up with Emily, 26, right, who is the lead singer of Philly-based electro-pop outfit Pony Pants.  She is the server of gelato by day, rock star by night, feminist all the time.  She had some thoughts about women in music:
“I put a lot of energy and thought into performances, and I have rarely had anyone imply that it’s bullshit because I am a woman. There have been a couple of guys that come up to us after a show and will be just gushing about all the guitar riffages, and the gear, and the amps, and I’ll be like…didn’t you like the singing? And they say, “not really my thing.”

"Generally what happens more is that girls come up to me and want to hug and talk about their projects and it's fucking amazing. They will express that they really admire me, stuff I would have never expected. I figured people were over it. I see bands with girls in them all the time, in every capacity, and I love it. Sometimes when we’re on tour we get paired with bands just because they have girls in them, which is cool and I don’t mind at all, but guys in the audience will more frequently be like “Come on, you're not even in tune,” which is so stupid. I have the biggest soft spot for bands with girls, even if they are bad. It’s the whole Riot Grrrl, cult of amateurism stuff. Bands that are like “we don’t know how to play, but we are just going to fucking do it, because it feels good.”

Monday, July 21, 2008

Trip to New York: MARISOL

Marisol: 22, native New Yorker, first-generation American, a financial analyst at one of the most famous investment banks in the world. Is going to quit next year and get her post-bacc to be a doctor.
(There she is, left, crossing Wall St)

On being a woman in the investment banking world:

"Surprisingly maybe, investment banks in New York are very modern in terms of women, childcare, minorities, diversity--they have it down. And you have to separate these banks from the rest of corporate America, like AT & T or GM, companies that are very old-fashioned. In those places, I feel like the environment for women is a lot different. My investment bank is five years ahead, not because they're feminists or anything...it's just that they realize that to work in the modern world and to get the best types of people you have to provide certain services and environments, otherwise you're going to lose women. There are three women in my group who recently have children, and they are provided with a childcare center in the building. That's better than other industries with more women, like publishing."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Overheard in Chicago #7: Summer Shows

partying after the show: me with rebecca and jen of tyler john tyler

I arrived at the Sic Alps show on Saturday night, overwhelmed by the stench of male B.O. and stale Old Style. I scanned the crowd with my eyes, looking for a glimpse of that girl presence that always makes me feel so comfortable at shows. I elbowed my way to the front, so that I could see above all the 6-foot-tall bodies, and spotted some of the only other girls I know from the rock music scene bouncing along to the riffs.

A while later, I turned to one of my guy friends and said, "Man, it's so weird that there's not very many girls in the music scene in Chicago." He answered me, "Believe me, we're happy to have you. Before all you girls came onto the scene, who were we supposed to fuck?" He later told me he was kidding, that he knew we all played music, but the comment left a bad taste in my mouth. Did our gender make it necessary for the dudes in the scene to think of us as "groupies," and not as fellow music-lovers?

--Emma

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mid Week Memo: RYAN AND NATHAN

In the early stages of GIRLdrive, we were reminded of a group of people that feminism sometimes glosses over: the transgender community. On our recent trip to the East coast (during New York's Pride Week), we talked with a genderbending woman and a transman who is currently passing at the workplace. This is what they had to say:

Ryan (left) is 26, born and raised in Queens, works at a real estate office, has been training for the last 2 years to be a firefighter. She identifies as genderqueer, and changed her name to Ryan earlier this year because she "never felt comfortable with [her] given name."
"Sometimes I feel more identified as female, and other times I feel more identified as male, depending on my situation. But then I start to think, 'It's based on the situations I'm in only because I'm thinking in terms of the definitions I've been taught.' I'm assigning language to behavior, but it seems kind of unnatural to me...I feel like the world is really in a struggle of borders, which have become the metaphor of my life. There's a struggle to cross borders and to keep things out. Confronting this will be important for feminism, I think, but more generally for just figuring out how to co-exist in the world."

Nathan is 22, lives and grew up in Philly, quit college last year, works for a pharmaceutical software company.
"I don't think that my decision to transition [into a man] makes me any less of a feminist, because the reason I transitioned is unrelated. My understanding of feminism is for both sexes to be equal--in ability, capacity, rights, everything. I can't say that switching really takes away from that. And I feel like I can make a difference from the inside...because now I am thought of as a man with other men. I don't pull out a whiteboard and write, 'Here's how not to objectify your wife.' But I do express feminist ideals covertly and I think it helps when guys hear it coming from guys."

Monday, July 7, 2008

We're back!

We're safe and sound in Chicago, after a whirlwind tour of DC, Philly, and good old New York. Check back tomorrow for a combo Profile-Midweek Memo!

-N and E

(to the left is a photo of us in Telephone Bar & Grill in the East Village on 6/24, the same place where we first planted the seeds for GIRLdrive almost two years ago!)

Monday, June 23, 2008

GIRLdrive in DC, NYC, and Philly


Dear Faithful Readers,
This week the blog goes on hiatus as we are in NYC, Philly, and DC conducting interviews and visiting our friends and family.

We are in NYC: June 20-27, June 29-July 2
Philly: June 27-28th
DC: June 28th-30th

If you know any awesome ladies to interview, please send them our way!
--E & N

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Overheard in Chicago #6: Angie

While taking publicity stills for Chicago based performance artist Angie, 23, right, we got to talking about life as a young lady in the theater arts world:

“My work has a lot to do with promoting my sexuality and understanding its power over people, especially men. Working in the performing arts, I’m not a stripper, but I feel that sex appeal is important…I am always hyper aware of my own use of my sexuality, and I use it to get what I want and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, because the converse of that is just being na├»ve and exploited. Woman [in the performing arts] are still completely objectified, especially in Chicago…They are not enough women in the performing arts in this city that are comfortable harnessing their sexuality in a way that is healthy and not exploited or commercial... The reason I am in performance is because I appreciate the fact that I can bring three dimensionality and depth to common notions of womanhood you see in flat advertisements and movies, being in the performing arts I take action against these commodified versions of femininity by bringing to life another version...”

--EBB

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mid-Week Memo: Words from the Guys

detail from painting by Emma's mother, Susan Bee, titled "Girly Man,"
and the cover for a book by Emma's father of the same name

This week, we collected a few quotes from men on the topic of feminism--are they feminists, and what does feminism mean to them?

"I feel like men and women both need to be uplifted from where they're at, and in our society, women are more marginalized. So in the same way that I might be more aware of people that are poverty-stricken, or minorities that have had a harder experience in our country, I'd say I'm a feminist in the way that I'm aware that women are often subordinated in our society, or underappreciated. But I don't think you can uplift just women without changing the way that men approach it as well. The balance is very important, and it's a two-way conversation."
--Aaron, 26, production assistant and freestyle MC in New York

"I think I'm a feminist, but that doesn't mean that misogynist qualities aren't ingrained in me. I think that's true for women, too. I think I respect and am sensitive to women's issues, but I still find myself expecting women to act a certain way. I still say stuff like, "That chick is hot." I am feminist to the extent that I question how things exist now, but I'm still very much a product of mainstream 'guy' culture, whether I like it or not."
--Aaron, 27, waiter and writer in Chicago

"I am not sure how to answer the question of whether or not I consider myself to be a feminist. Of course, feminism means different things to different people, but it doesn't mean much to me. Do I respect people regardless of their gender? I would say yes -- at least I try to. If someone demonstrates themselves as worthy of respect, their gender really doesn't matter to me. However, I have a very different opinion of people who allow or choose to have the question of their gender (woman, man, trans, whatever) play too great a role in defining themselves." Matt took his thoughts in a more philosophical direction after this, wondering whether gender distinctions themselves create unbalanced power structures. He wondered: should we look past gender to find some mythical sexless human essence, or is there some merit to be found in embracing hierarchal structures? Click here to read his musings in his own words.
--Matt, 24, paralegal in Chicago

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Overheard in Chicago #5: Open Mic

While waiting to hear our girl Deliza perform at an open mic over the weekend at the Bassment, we overheard a choice exchange.

The female emcee (right) asked one of the guy rappers, DJ Uh-Oh, if he was intimidated by the amount of ladies stepping up to the microphone.

He didn't hesitate to retort (left): "Some of these b-girls are coming harder than niggas," he admitted. "I ain't gonna bite my tongue."

Cheers and shout-outs ensued.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mid-Week Memo: JADINE

This is Part III of a series dedicated to
Contemporary Art & Feminism


Last Saturday Nona and I had the pleasure of attending a graduate student symposium curated by Woman Made Gallery in honor of the Feminist Art Project. We sat through hours of presentations, with paper topics ranging from 1970’s confessional video art, to the use of string and embroidery to represent femininity in visual practice, to the repercussions of the “L-Word” on lesbian stereotyping in the media. It was the first time I have been to such an intimate gathering of art history and feminism nerds, and not been the youngest member of the audience. Most of the gals presenting and listening (unfortunately there were few men in attendance) are daughters of the third wave, yet there was a sense of scholarship and dedication to second wave artists that should serve as a placating reminder to intergenerational worry worts.

The youngest panelist was my college friend Jadine, 23, (above, middle) who now works for Woman Made Gallery. She presented her brilliant thesis on the performance artist Orlan (which I workshopped on when we were fellow art history students). Jadine also was one of our first interviewees, back in April 2007. We caught up with her after the conference to see how her opinions on art and feminism have developed over the past year:

“Interning at Woman Made gallery has changed my viewpoint a lot. It’s easy theoretically for me to feel like that there is no need to essentialize female identity, that females that are doing good work should just emerge. But, I’m seeing that in the everyday market reality there is a need to assert an essentialist identity of women to just get them equal opportunities to display their work.”

Last weekend Jadine and I were both in attendance at a panel discussion on “post-black” artists, put on by the Renaissance Society museum. The structure of the post-black argument echoed that of contemporary post-feminist artists, women artists who don’t want their gender mapped onto their artworks. How this plays out when race and gender intersect was, astoundingly, never brought up. I asked Jadine: Can you be a post-black, post-feminist artist?

“Somehow art made by women has a lot more fudge room then art by black artists. Everyone doesn’t expect female artists to make art about feminist issues, but it seems very hard for a black female artist to make art that’s not read in terms of race.”
jadine, april 2007
--EBB

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Overheard in Chicago #4: RACHEL

While browsing in a Logan Square flower shop, called Fleur, we struck up a conversation with one of the florists, Rachel. She clued us into the reality of "Bridezillas," telling us:

"I never really thought the Bridezilla thing was real until I saw it in person. Brides can really get controlling. They put all this money into one day, when it could go into a year of traveling. And it usually is a sign of a marriage that's not going to last, if they care that much about flower arrangements. Men care sometimes, too, but it doesn't seem to be much of a big deal to them."


Is this a true stereotype? Why do women put so much emphasis on one little day?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mid-Week Memo: McCain Madness

In the last few days, a disturbing phenomenon has caught our attention: incensed Hillary supporters are pledging their support for McCain, refusing to jump on the Obama wagon. Collier, 23, (left) one of our childhood friends and a lady who's never afraid to speak her mind, is our personal political consultant and political-blog expert. She had some choice things to say:

"I don't think it's fair to say that this largely white and older block of women are being hysterical and irrational--necessarily. However, I do think that older, white women feel like they were owed something, that it was their time to shine. And this was a huge blow to their collective ego, that somehow a younger, swifter (maybe too swift) black man took their moment. But these same women were the ones who by and large support the right to choose. These are the same women who believe that every American deserves access to affordable health care. And they would be doing a disservice to Hillary Clinton (their presidential hopeful) and all of the work she did surrounding the preservation of a woman's right to choose and healthcare if they voted for McCain.

They are not hysterical but they want to be heard. This is their way of being heard. It's an empty threat. They will come to their senses, both because Hillary Clinton will remind them of McCain's increasingly conservative anti-choice record. He used to believe in abortions for rape victims and victims of incest but since he needs to bring in those uber-conservative voters, he has denounced all abortion. They will come to their senses because they themselves will remember all that they struggled for. I don't think this is something that upstanding feminists should be concerned about. If white women do stay home or vote for McCain, it's because they're insane."

Monday, June 2, 2008

Chicago: LAUREN

Back in April of last year, when I met up with Emma in Chicago to do a few sample interviews and test out GIRLdrive, one of the feminists we interviewed was Lauren Berlant (left), a professor of English at the University of Chicago and an influential feminist thinker. To this day, we still consider it one of the most important interviews we did, one of those long, meandering conversations during which you have several epiphanies. We remember one moment in particular, when Lauren addressed the issue of reconciling "work" (feminism, intellect) with "play" (happiness, sex). It's stuck with us ever since:

"As an intellectual, feminist or not, you are constantly being called to say what you are thinking and describe what you are doing all the time. Then there are these spaces for an interruption or a relief...the “appetite” spaces, like eating and fucking and watching TV and hanging out with your friends. What feminism hoped for was forms of pleasure that would also be about self-development, where your forms of self-cultivation would also be your pleasure. We have to admit that pleasure is not just about eloquence, culture, clarity. Its also fogginess and sex. Once you think about sex as a place where you lose control, it’s to some extent contrary to intellect and feminism as a theory. If feminism is about control, and sex is about losing control, how do you reconcile that?"

--NWA

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Overheard in Chicago #3: Post-'Sex and the City'

On Saturday night, we eagerly went out to see the Sex and the City movie with a few of our friends. Over pizza and martinis (of course), we "couldn't help but wonder": did Sex and the City portray women positively or negatively?
*warning: slight spoilers below*

Matt: I found some of the portrayal of women in Sex and the City to be kind of offensive. The general impression I got from most of the characters (the redheaded lawyer one being the exception) was that women are vapid, self-absorbed, and capable of self-reflection only when pushed by others ...which isn't really self-reflection after all, is it? (Matt had a lot more brilliant things to say about this issue. Check out more of his thoughts here).

Antonia: I disagree. I don't think the movie was sexist. I thought Samantha's storyline especially was uplifting--that she chose to be independent in the end.

Emma: But what about all that overeating bullshit, the fact that they made such a big deal about Samantha gaining 15 pounds? That was lightweight offensive.

Antonia: Yeah...but it's realistic. Some women do turn to binge-eating to deal with stress.

Collier: I thought the movie was very materialistic, and stuck in the late nineties, 'First Wives Club'-status.

Antonia: I don't think the show is insinuating that ALL women are materialistic, and I don't think there is anything really wrong with materialism! (check out her full diatribe here)

For Nona's opinion, check out her review of the film for VenusZine.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mid-Week Memo: The Virgin

Note: This is Part 1 in a 3-part series discussing Chastity, Purity, and Promiscuity.

The other day, Rosa,* 16, confessed to us that she had been raped when she was 9 by a family friend. "I'm fine now," she told us. Her voice wavered but her strength and poise was obvious. She seemed to have accepted what had happened and moved on. But our hearts broke when when she shared how it's affected the way she looks at love and sex:

"[My boyfriend now] knows what I've been through, and he don't even kiss me. We'll hold hands and he'll ask me if it's okay. I met him at church. There was a time where I came out to the church, because they were like, "Come up to the altar if you need healing because you've been raped or molested." So I went up there and he started praying for me...and I finally was able to give my problem to God. I really struggled with forgiveness, but now that I've started to go to church, I've forgiven the man who raped me. It was wrong, it was a mistake he did, but in God's eyes, I'm still a virgin, I'm still pure."

Our stomachs sank, not only because Rosa had been hurt, or because she was only a child when it happened, but because she fundamentally felt stained by the rape. No matter how she had let her life blossom, the most important thing to restore after she was raped was her "purity"--her virginity. Now that Rosa had gotten a second chance at guarding her sexuality, she barely lets her boyfriend touch her. On some level, she was admitting that she will forever think of sex as something to defend herself against, not to enjoy.

The reason for this dread is partly psychological--no 9-year-old is ready for sex, much less outright violation. But the social construct of virginity and purity is also so ingrained in our culture that who can blame Rosa for feeling impure and dirty? Why are we so fascinated by this tiny little piece of skin that, up until a few decades ago, was usually not even up to a woman to "give up"? Virginity is still a huge deal. Virginal pop stars are alternately idolized and scorned. "Virginity pledges" in the shadow of abstinence-only education are on the rise. Teenage girls constantly fret about what makes you "technically a virgin" (see Schechter's movie trailers, below). Not to mention that the whole idea of virginity is based on heterosexual relationships, leaving an entire population of homosexual women and men out of the equation.


Most unfairly, people couldn't care less about teenage boys losing their virginities. Guarding sexuality is almost purely, so to speak, on the shoulders of a woman, implying that the only one who would even want to have sex is unquestionably the man. Rape will always be unthinkably painful, but it could be a lot easier to heal from it as a young girl without the added job of "gatekeeper."

Emma and I have been obsessed with the topic of virginity ever since this road trip began. Emma is sinking her teeth into Hanne Blank's Virgin: The Untouched History, and I've been patiently waiting for Therese Schechter’s documentary The American Virgin (her website is where I stole that cherry photo). Schechter calls virginity "the cornerstone of Western civilization." It's a term that's only started to be questioned and broken down, and pop culture has a long way to go before they quit dichotomizing Madonna and whore.

*name has been changed

Discussion Question 1
Discussion Question 2

Monday, May 26, 2008

Chicago: DELIZA

Deliza is one of the ladies we've met through Step Up Women's Network. We got to know her a little while back when we profiled her for Student of the Month (check out the article here), which is an honor given by Step Up to a particularly inspiring, diligent, and committed young woman who is part of the Teen Empowerment program. Deliza (left, in her pantry-turned-studio at home) is 16, was raised in Puerto Rico and Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, goes to North Grand high school, and plans to be a famous singer/dancer/choreographer (she already writes her own songs).

Deliza freely told us her steadfast opinions on everything from teen pregnancy to women's roles in the Latino community, but "feminism" was a new word and concept for Deliza. Emma and I tried as best we could to explain the many facets of what feminism could mean. We gave her a little history, told her that it's all wrapped up in choices, happiness, sex, family, love. We quoted one of her fellow Step Up girls, Maryann, who said that "being a feminist is not feeling like you just have to be in the kitchen and pop out babies." This is what Deliza had to say:

"If someone called me a feminist, I think I would agree. It's like what Maryann said, there are so many opportunities out there. You don't have to be what people want you to be. I am going to take a stand for it...You know when your parents tell you, 'You can do anything you want'? I really took that into consideration. I believe I can do whatever I want, and no one's going to stop me. Not a man, not a female, not the government, not Bush. I am my own person. So with the definition that you guys have given me, I would see myself as a feminist."

--NWA

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Overheard in Chicago #2: DARYL and JOEY


A coincidence: While Emma was out of town, I had two unrelated but quite similar conversations about GIRLdrive and our stance on international feminism. We've touched on this issue a few times (Siman from Phoenix had a lot to say about it), but it has not come up in a while.

The first conversation I had was with Daryl, a 25-year-old behavior consultant for an organization providing services for people with autism. She works in Berkeley but was in town for a conference, and I met her randomly at the tail end of Saturday night. When we got on the topic of the very American story of GIRLdrive, Daryl had a lot to say. "Our struggles are nothing compared to what international women go through," she commented over an Old Style. "I know you guys are trying to figure out where American feminism is headed, but in my daily life, I feel fine. I feel like I can say what I want and do what I want for the most part." Although tentatively identifying as a feminist, Daryl made it clear that basic human rights were her priority--and not necessarily sweating the "small stuff."

The next day, I heard something similar--from a boy. Joey, a twentysomething dude from Humboldt Park, Chicago, was in a car with me and happened to ask me why I moved to Chicago. I told him, and he had a similar reaction to Daryl's: "When I think of what needs to be done in terms of feminism, I think of other countries. It's all relative."

What do you guys think about this issue? Should GIRLdrive go global? Or is the search for feminism via a Chevy Cavalier a very specific American trope? Tell us your thoughts.

--NWA

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Woman Made Gallery: AMY

This is PART II of a series of blog entries devoted to
I recently sat down for a conversation with Amy (above), gallery coordinator for Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, the midwest regional coordinator for the Feminist Art Project, and adjunct Art History prof at DePaul University.

On having a women only gallery: “Woman Made couldn’t be called a feminist gallery because we have shows that are abstract and geometric. Feminism has a connotation that is more political. Its really important to have that kind of show because women artists are underrepresented in the art world and just because an artist does abstraction or geometric forms doesn’t mean we can’t be an advocate for them. Being an advocate for all women artists is where the name Woman Made comes from. For our audiences the idea of a feminist made gallery would mean political art. Would more people come to the gallery if it was called WM gallery, would more collectors buy from us? What connotations are we promoting with our name? Ultimately it's not about identity, its about women being underrepresented in the art world.”

On younger artists aversion to being labeled feminist: “We had an emerging art show called ‘Feminist Interrogations,’ all about how feminism can be used as a tool of social activism. I encouraged younger artists associated with our gallery to apply, and a lot of them didn’t. Their idea of feminism was about images of women and this way we think about feminism traditionally. It seems there is a gap there in terms of how younger artists are getting involved with feminism and making it relevant to their lives… There are young artists who don’t want to show here. They don’t want to make that distinction, that their work is only supposed to be shown at a Woman’s Gallery, they don’t want to put that on their record. They don’t want the issue of personal identity associated with their work, and I can understand that, but I would still advocate for them.”

--EBB

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chicago: DOROTHEE

Dorothee: 24, lives in Chicago's West Town neighborhood, and went to high school in Germany. She runs an online video magazine called Fresh Cut, and works at a foundation downtown "to pay the bills." Is a feminist "but I don't think about it every day."

On being called a feminist:

"Being a woman has definitely made me more sensitive to being taken seriously. I've checked myself if I really want to say that something's unfair about being a girl, like not wanting to sound like a militant feminist. I totally censor myself because I don't want to seem aggressive or unattractive. People are really turned off by it; they don't want to hear it...And [women] are raised in our society, too, so we're sexist against ourselves almost. We're turned off by it too."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Overheard in Chicago #1: JANE

Every weekend we will post overhead musings from friends and random women we run into in bars, cars, restaurants, and on the streets.
One of my best friends Jane came into Chicago this weekend to help me celebrate my 23rd birthday. As we lay in bed one morning, groggily addressing our hangovers and our hungry bellies, we got to talking about the female obsession with weight. Jane had thoughts to share:

“Even if we blame the patriarchy for planting the seeds of body image anxieties, it seems to me that it was women themselves who disseminated and watered these seeds into the monstrous weeds they are today. I’ve observed that perhaps contrary to biological instinct, women mainly base their aesthetic self worth upon the assessment of other women: I dress to impress my female friends, not my boyfriend. These friends are more conscious, critical of weight fluctuations, bad haircuts, and make-up faux pas than my boyfriend—if he even notices that anything is different, he would be incapable of verbalizing the nuances desired in such a critique. A female friend satisfies the neurotic dressing room desire for abasement (honesty), she would tell you that your ass looks too fat in that miniskirt, your boyfriend would say, ‘you look hot…' ”

--EBB

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

UPDATE: Mid-Week Memo

Wednesday entries will now cover specific topics and projects that we are involved in. Look out for ongoing themes such as women and the arts, mentoring teenage girls, intergenerational conversations, and more juicy tidbits from the feminist frontier.

Left Forum: Continuing the Conversation

In March, I got invited to speak on behalf of "young feminists" at the Left Forum, an annual conference of lefty intellectuals, activists, writers, and organizers held at Cooper Union in New York. The panel was called "The Pleasure Frontier: An Intergenerational Dialogue on Sex in Feminism" and consisted of me (in the middle); Jennifer Baumgardner (right), the thirtysomething Third Wave feminist activist, author and filmmaker; and Loretta Ross (left), Second Wave-era feminist and founder of the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective. The room at Cooper Union was packed--people sitting on the floor and in windowsills, latecomers hanging in the doorways. The brief panel was followed by--I'm not kidding--a 1.5 hour-long question and answer session.

Anger and confessions spilled out of people's mouths, as arguments bounced across the room. Hands shot up everywhere: Can stripping and porn ever be feminist? Why is incest ignored by the media? Are women of color too oversexualized to be included in the feminist conversation? Jennifer, Loretta and I felt a palpable generational gap. There were audible "tsks" in reaction to what I had to say about teenage sex and modesty. I could feel the tension, rage, and passion in this tiny little classroom, and I left with a strange mix of defeat and satisfaction.

It proved to me that once again, feminists are their own worst enemies. It seems to take unfathomable amounts of compromise to please women from all over the spectrum. But it also showed me that feminism--sex-related or not--is still a hot topic. It is one that women care about and want to tackle head-on. People (yes, men too) get riled up about these issues. Sex was just a way to get the fire going, but judging by the profusion of hugs and thanks yous I got after the panel, it will continue to burn.

-NWA

*Look out for the next installment of Emma's Contemporary Art and Feminism series next Wednesday.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chicago: HANNAH (aka GOOSE)

Hannah (right, known to us by her former nickname 'Goose'), 23, is originally from Hoboken, NJ, although she "considers herself from New York, even if most people don't." She is currently assisting on a documentary about Grace Paley and is going for her MA in Film Studies in the fall at the University of Iowa. She considers herself a feminist and is an old friend of Emma's and mine from Camp Kinderland, a lefty Jewish summer camp where we met. We reunited with Goose in Chicago over sandwiches to get her take on feminism and being a woman. At one point, we reminisced about how Goose used to be a serious tomboy, and often people would mistake as a boy. Turns out it was a very conscious "fuck you" to preconceived notions about gender:

"As you guys know, I had very short hair for quite a long time, and part of that was that even when I was young, I would think, 'How can you say I look like a boy, because what does a boy look like?' It wasn't me questioning my gender identity, it was more questioning those kind of constructs from my naive 9-year-old point of view....I had a letter that I wrote to a pen pal that I never sent for some reason, [and I wrote] 'People always think I'm a boy, but I'm really happy being a girl'...after a while, it was like, 'This is my stand. I should be allowed to look how I look and still be considered a young woman.' [Then I changed because] I was attracted to men and they weren't attracted to me. Also, it was kind of exciting because I had never had the childhood experience to dress up in girly things."

Look out for Goose's upcoming article in The Believer, where she writes about being into baby names and, among other things, how it kind of makes her "feel like a bad feminist."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Chicago: LUCY

Lucy is 24, a native Chicagoan, and an assistant editor for the post-production company Optimus, which produces commercials. She is an aspiring film-maker and screenplay writer and is our dear friend who came with us on the Southern stretch of GIRLdrive: through Austin, New Orleans, and Memphis. (The photo on the left was taken in the Marigny in NOLA.) Months later, we finally had a chance to sit down with her and ask her what she thought:

On feminism:
"Even after being on the road trip and knowing you guys so well, I still kind of don't know what that definition means...but I feel like, how can you be a woman and not be a feminist? I guess being a feminist is not ignoring the fact that if you're a woman, you experience things a certain way, no matter what, no matter whether you want to face it or not."

On mothers and mentorship:
"I'm lucky that I have a really good relationship with my mom, and she's been an incredible mentor to me...but I don't want to always go to my mom for everything. I don't do what my mom did and that's partially on purpose. I want someone else who will be not only a teacher, but a friend who has empathy. It's hard for girls to even find out what they want to do...and I would be more unhappy if I had to be the assistant to a man. [When I assisted men]...they wouldn't trust me with a lot of things and I would allow myself to believe that. I would slip into this weird submissive thing where I'd be scared to screw up."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Beyond the Waves"

This is PART I of a series of blog entries devoted to
Contemporary Art and Feminism

On March 30 I had my first feminist public speaking gig (well…since the mock debate on abortion in 5th grade). I was invited to be the youngest panelist for “Beyond the Waves: Feminist Artists Talk Across the Generations” at the Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, the bookend to a month of exciting events for Women’s Art History Month in New York put on by the feminist art gallery A.I.R.
(L2R: Kat Griefen, Susan Bee, Mira Schor, me, Carolee Schneemann, Brynna Tucker )

On the panel with me were an array of other accomplished feminist artists, many of whom we interviewed as part of GIRLdrive.* The implicit question on the table was daunting: what does it mean to call yourself a feminist artist? How is it different now than in the revolutionary glory days? Squeezed between famed Second Wavers, some of whom I literally owe my life to (my mom was on the panel), and with a standing-room audience packed in peering forward for answers... my nerves kicked in. The speech I had prepared didn’t necessarily provide backrubs for every neglected older woman artist in the room. The night before, practicing in my bedroom, it seemed like a good idea to draw attention to the changes in generational attitudes towards proclaiming oneself a “feminist artist.” Now all I could think was, thank God those emergency exits are blaring red, I might need them for a quick escape.

But as I took the podium, first talking about GIRLdrive, then about my own feminist-infused artwork, I began to feel proud to be representing my generation. After announcing our publishing deal, I got a round of applause that turned me as red as those exit lights. And even though I ended on an ambiguous, slightly admonishing tone (asking the audience to reconsider the ungrateful daughter paradigm, and come up with new language to describe gendered artworks), I was surprised to find an enthusiastic crowd waiting to compliment me when I stepped down. Maybe the reason why open dialogue between feminist generations is so hard is that we are all so afraid of hurting feelings, of misspeaking.
The panel taught me a lot. Feelings are for sissies.
Don’t open your heart: open your ears, and you’ll hear a whole lot more.
--EBB

*Our forthcoming book will have a section devoted to art and feminism. It will include interviews with curators, artists, art critics and historians on the state of women in the art world. Look for upcoming blog entry snippets with the likes of: Linda Nochlin, Amy Galpin (of Woman Made Gallery), Kat Griefen (of A.I.R. Gallery), Joan Snyder, Joan Jonas, Carolee Schneemann, Mira Schor, Susan Bee, Faith Wilding, the Brainstormers, a Guerrilla Girl, and many more!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Our date with Step Up Women's Network

Emma and I spent a few hours yesterday at an event called "Cool Women, Hot Careers," a panel and workshop focused on helping teen girls make their professional dreams reality. It was hosted by Step Up Women's Network, an amazing organization that we have recently hooked up with. Step Up is a non-profit committed to mentoring, educating, and networking with disadvantaged teen girls in Chicago and other cities across the United States. The wonderful thing about it is that it's a true intergenerational exchange--the program pairs the teenagers up with grown women who provide professional guidance, arming the girls with the skills they need. When Emma discovered Step Up on the web, we instantly recognized that its urge to give young women a voice and forge connections between generations fit uncannily with the spirit of GIRLdrive.

We met with a few of the girls during a Dreambooking session (left), where the girls mapped out their goals and portrayed them visually in a collage. We've only caught a glimpse of how the organization works--at this event and at another showcase of the girls' photographs--and already we are so impressed and inspired. These ladies have unbelievable poise, and we can't wait to start working with them. Starting April 30, we are going to be helping out in any way we can with the "I Dream To" program. The girls involved in the program interview, report on, and photograph a professional woman they admire and would like to learn from. Sound familiar? After over 200 GIRLdrive interviews and photos, we are eager to pass down our photojournalism wisdom! Stay tuned.

--NWA

Monday, April 14, 2008

Chicago: AMY















Amy Schroeder: 31, founder and editor-in-chief of the women-focused pop culture magazine Venus, through-and-through midwesterner, Third Wave feminist.

"In our new issue, we have a feature on the Greatest Female Guitarists of All Time. The reason we did it is because Rolling Stone in 2002 did a cover story on the Greatest Guitarists of All Time. There's 100 guitarists on that list. 2 are women. So that's why we did it, but I hate doing that in a way because its ghettoizing women. Saying like "Well, they're secondary" but they're fucking not. Yet if we don't do this list, then chances are these women won't be recognized anywhere else...It sucks to be thought as always the 'female guitarist,' but somebody's gotta recognize these women."