Monday, December 31, 2007

New York City: ERICA

Erica Jong (above, in her East side home): New Yorker, novelist, poet, media personality, pioneer of the sexual revolution, Second Wave feminist.

On young women, sex, and role models:

"I think young teenagers all need an older woman--maybe not our mother, since we are all rebelling against her at that age--who she trusts, with whom she can sort these things out. I had someone like that to talk to about promiscuity and my feelings about love and sex. Maybe every woman ought to have a mentor. Mentoring is the new feminism. I really believe that the next stage of feminism is going to be older women and younger women working together."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

New York City: KATHLEEN

Kathleen Hanna (left, in her SoHo neighborhood): activist, teacher, musician, feminist; early Riot Grrrl upstarter, singer/songwriter in Viva Kneivel, Bikini Kill, Julie Ruin, Le Tigre.

On her falling out with Riot Grrrl:

“A lot of the cool people left, including myself…It's a problem on its own to look at anything as your savior, its this kind of Christian capitalist way of looking at things. But when the thing that’s totally saving your life is now choking you to death, the language that saved your life is being used to murder you, it's really incredibly painful…I haven’t moved away from feminism, and I haven’t become softer and "nicer feminist" style or something, I’ve just really gotten bored of myself and want to look towards other people...It’s the arrogance of youth that made anything happen. I am glad I opened my mouth even though I didn’t fully know what I was saying…I had all the knowledge [about feminism] I needed because I lived it, and that’s the part of it that stands the test of time, but there is another part which is arrogant and not feeding into a positive sense of continuum.”

Friday, December 28, 2007

New York City: ANYA

Anya Kamenetz (right, on her terrace in Williamsburg): 28, originally from Baton Rouge, journalist, personal finance advisor, author of Generation Debt. Considers herself a feminist.

"Women in general are bringing very high stakes to the work world. We are one of the first generations of women raised with the belief that we are going to work, and that it's not just about being a breadwinner. Men have their own pressures, like this intense fear of not succeeding and that he has to make his mark in the world. But for women, I think it’s more about finding a full expression of who you are in the work world, because if you don’t, you should be fulfilling the higher purpose of having children. A lot of women I know apply that binary to their lives."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

New York City: JESSICA

Jessica Valenti (right, at a cafe in her Astoria neighborhood): 29, founder and executive editor of the blog Feministing, activist, author of Full Frontal Feminism.

On Girls Gone Wild:

“The way you deal with a phenomenon like that is to encourage women to be critical thinkers—ask her, ‘Why are you doing these things? Why does it make you feel powerful to get drunk and show your boobs?’ The myth of sexual purity is the real thing that is screwing up young women, not the fact that they are being sexual. Both Girls Gone Wild and abstinence-only [campaigns] are about dictating what young women should do. So no wonder why we are completely sexually confused. When you’re telling a woman that her moral compass is between her legs, that can really fuck her up.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

New York City: LAURA

Laura Kipnis: cultural and media critic, professor of media studies at Northwestern University, author of Against Love and The Female Thing. A feminist, but tries to avoid “being typecast as the pro-sex feminist…I get bored when people only ask me to write about those issues.”

On beauty:

"The hidden 'double shift' for women is spending an awful lot of time worrying about the way they look…It’s not like women don’t realize this [impediment], but I think they feel defeated by it. You can be self-aware of these things and still be on a constant diet. You can have read every feminist book on your bookshelf and still have issues about food and eating and the way your hair is styled. I guess you're not required to subscribe to this kind of regime, but it helps you blend in and offers you more sexual opportunity...because that's still the way the heterosexual world is organized, despite all the supposed female progress."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

New York City: JEANIE

Jeanie (left, outside of Café Pick Me Up in the East Village): 23, raised uptown in Manhattan, actress, former champion fencer, temp at a banking software company. Considers herself a feminist.

“Growing up in New York surrounded by strong women doing their own thing, it was much easier to be an individual, and be supported for that...My sister and I were always fighting this idea of what it was to be a “girl." We were very physical tomboys. I remember one summer, we went to this daycamp upstate, and I was the only girl playing hockey with the boys. I wasn’t afraid of being sweaty or being loud…we have always had that sense of ‘We’re different, and we’re proud of that.'”

Friday, December 21, 2007

New York City: TECLA

Tecla (right, in her newly bought apartment in the Bronx): native New Yorker, 25, preschool teacher, plays keyboard and does backup vocals in the all-girl band Sweetie. Considers herself a feminist.

“Sweetie is a raunchy, raw, female, ‘I-don’t-give-a-fuck’ band. I like having that beautiful female vibe without having to deal with male energy. With men, there’s an unnecessary competition happening…their egos are tested. I know that women have their own issues with eachother, which is sad but true. But being with girl musicians feels like a more healthy, cohesive environment, where you can vibe in a pleasant way.”

Take a look at Sweetie's music video "17" on YouTube.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

New York City: JENNIFER

Jennifer Baumgardner (right, on Broadway): author, activist, film-maker, Third Wave feminist.

“I feel nothing but excitement about the new generation of women. People say things all the time like, ‘It’s much worse now, if anything we’ve gone back.' People look at things like Girls Gone Wild or the fact that girls cut themselves, or violent body images issues, and think it’s worse. But it’s not true, it's not worse. The issue of early sexual contact for instance…certainly there are girls who aren’t self-protecting, but there’s also more girls in charge of their libido and having a sense of sexual expression, before they find themselves being 40 and finally getting their first vibrator.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


After Nashville, our entries are going to be short and sweet, purposely meant to be a tease so there will be some juicy stuff for the book! Our New York, Chicago area, and East coast journeys will be mostly snapshots and soundbites, with a stray longer entry here and there. Enjoy!

--Nona and Emma

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Nashville, Day 2: RACHEL

We have coffee in a hipster part of Nashville with Rachel, the 24-year-old art and design director at American Songwriter magazine. Like Lauren, she grew up in Memphis, and she and her two sisters were raised by Southern Baptist parents. “My parents are conservative, but always gave us freedom with how we approached our talents. I grew up with the arts,” Rachel says. She came to Nashville “to do music—I was fascinated with how the DIY independent music scene was going in Nashville,” but wound up getting a business degree and eventually got interested in design.

Rachel would consider herself a feminist, but “subtlely. It’s in my nature to feel empowered as a female. I always feel like I have to prove myself, even in the independent music scene, which I see as kind of a brotherhood.” Rachel describes herself as “quiet shaker.” She cites her parents as unlikely contributors to her progressive way of thinking. “My parents are both religious people, but they’re all about freedom of speech. My mom grew up in the hippie culture in Austin, but describes that time in her life as ‘before she found her faith.’” Regardless, she and her two older sisters “honed in” on their parents’ liberal past rather than their more traditional lifestyle later on.

Religion does play a role in Rachel’s life—“it’s a very quiet factor, but I treasure it.” The church she goes to “embraces the concepts of love between races and types of people,” and goes against the stereotype of close-minded Christianity. She thinks her anti-right-wing stance, and the fact that she is pro-choice, is “even more powerful because I am a Christian. It surprises people. I also get excited when I meet people who are both faithful and artists—because I sometimes feel like an outcast in either group.” Rachel feels much more adamant than Lauren about the importance of separation between church and state, and gets frustrated that the right-wing agenda uses the name of Christ.

Rachel is hopeful for the future of young women, and is eager for them to be included in what she calls the “creative class.” “I get encouraged when I find that needle in a haystack—a woman who is pursuing the male-dominated world of music or art. I think it’s getting better. People are finally allowing people to think for themselves and, little by little, boundaries are vanishing.”


Check out what Rachel wrote on November 19th on her livejournal about our little chat!

Nashville, Day 1: LAUREN

After dinner with Caroline, we rush home to meet Lauren, another med student at Vanderbilt. Lauren, 23, grew up in Memphis, went to nursing school in Texas, and just moved to Nashville in April to get her masters in midwifery. Lauren echoes some of Caroline’s hesitance about current ob/gyn protocol, telling us that “women are often treated like machines.” She believes that the birthing process is a woman’s domain. “I don’t think there’s room in childbirthing for men. It makes things awkward when a male doctor enters, even though I do respect some male doctors. Midwives really believe in women’s bodies, and that they can do it on their own.”

Does Lauren consider herself a feminist? “I wouldn’t. I don’t have the clearest picture of what it truly is…but I have a definite need for men in my life. When I was getting into midwifery, I heard stories about feminists that are very anti-men, anti-establishment, ‘hear us roar.’ That’s not my heart. From what I know of it, feminism seems like an imbalance. But I do think women were created beautifully and created strong, and I want women to be able to fulfill that, even in childbirth.”

We ask her if there are any other issues that she is passionate about. “Yes,” she says. “Abortion. I’m very pro-life. I believe that every pregnancy is a gift from the Lord and that there is a life at the moment of conception. I volunteer at a Crisis Pregnancy Center, and I’ve worked with women who have had abortions that feel like they have killed someone. I also see the lack of counseling given to pregnant women. I know women have their own choices, but I don’t think they know about the other options out there.” But Lauren thinks that if abortion was illegal, “there will be some women that will abort no matter what, so more women’s lives would be at risk.”

Lauren’s pro-life stance is directly related to her faith, which is extremely important to her. Emma asks Lauren if her political views are necessarily tied to her religion, and how she feels about separation between church and state. “That whole division is really hard for me, [because] my relationship with the Lord is everything in my life,” Lauren answers. “I don’t ever want to live a compartmentalized life; I strive to be the same person wherever I am.” Lauren sees the Christian right’s agenda as compatible with her views on women. “I don’t think our President is perfect by any means, and he professes to be a Christian. No matter how good a person is, they are going to make mistakes. But I believe Jesus supports women 100 percent.” Do pro-life male politicians have a place in legislating abortion if they don’t have a place in the delivery room? “My gut instinct is yes. Their position of being pro-life furthers knowledge and education, instead of them just wanting to have control of women.”

Lauren is concerned that too many young women “play around with sex,” and she believes in waiting to have sex until she is married. “I’m a virgin myself,” she tells us. “I grew up in a high school where most of my friends dated guys, and I was the girl that they came to, crushed, after they broke up with them. The girls were just giving themselves away…they were getting broken and torn apart. When I finally do get married, I want to be whole and not have had my heart broken.” But if Lauren were to counsel a young women on sex, “I’d maybe tell my own story, tell them about the risks, but I would also give them birth control.” Lauren doesn’t believe in abstinence-only education “because it’s not a reality. Girls need to know about STDs and pregnancy.” With both premarital sex or abortion, Lauren’s goal is “not to change or judge people, but to accept people, counsel them and give them advice. If a 16-year-old girl comes to me and still goes through with an abortion, I will still support her.”


Discussion Questions:
Question 1
Question 2

Monday, December 17, 2007

Nashville, Day 1: CAROLINE

After dropping off our friend Lucy at the airport, we drive to Caroline’s house in Nashville. Caroline, 26, is my back-in-the-day friend from Wesleyan. Raised in Montclair, New Jersey, she has been in Nashville for 3 years getting her medical degree at Vanderbilt.

Over thai food that night, Caroline (right and below, in a honky tonk on Broadway, Nashville's main stretch) tells us that she absolutely considers herself a feminist. “It’s something about myself that I have always known since I was young,” she says. Caroline describes her family as a “feminist household,” crediting both her mom and her dad for raising her that way. “My mom is outspoken but never really got to do some of the things that she was interested in because it was a different time.” She tells us that her mom, who is a teacher, regrets not getting professionally training until her late thirties, so it was important to her for children to have professional careers. “Both me and my sister are both off-the-beaten-path kind of people, but we are both in professional schools, and that’s not an accident. My mom wanted us to be able to support ourselves.” Caroline never took any women’s studies classes at Wesleyan—we both agree that the classes’ titles never quite popped out at us—but “a lot of my pleasure reading is non-fiction feminist books, like Manifesta.”

A couple years ago, Caroline had told me she wanted to be a obstetrician/gynecologist, but has since changed her mind about the culture around it. “The way women are treated, it is so impersonal and cold. There’s a whole atmosphere of talking about the woman like they’re annoying, speaking of them in very negative ways. It’s not geared to help women through the birth process. Emma, fresh with thoughts on midwifery from our interview with Kate, asks how homeopathic and natural procedures are raised in medical school. “The institution doesn’t teach it, but I see value in it,” Caroline replies. “I try to get everything I can out of medical education as it is now so I can make it more holistic in the future.” With feminism constantly on the mind during this roadtrip, I make the instant parallel of a woman who thinks, “If you can’t beat em, join em, then use the knowledge to beat em later.” It is an age-old feminist tactic for a woman to go along with the system until she gains a certain amount of power, then try to change things later.

Caroline wants to be successful, too, but she wants to “live like a human.” In many aspects of the medical field, she says, “you have to sacrifice your family for your career. I’m interested in pediatric or adult medicine, or maybe adolescent medicine or hospice. I want to have a life outside of medicine (as opposed to surgery). I like the idea of doing home visits or health care in the public schools or in community centers. You can achieve much more by considering a person's health in the context of their family situation or their home or school environment. " Is that why fewer women are surgeons? I ask. “Probably, because they are less willing to be in a chauvenistic, hierarchical environment.” And it may not be just that women are softer, but more that “there’s been a slow change in our culture where you can’t just boss everyone around. I don't see myself setting the world on fire, but I see me and my peers collectively changing medical education and the practice of medicine over time. ”


Discussion Questions:
Question 1
Question 2

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Update: GIRLdrive is HOME!

photo by Sadye Vassil

Hi everyone,

As you may have realized, we’ve been taking a break in New York, interviewing all of the fascinating women in the city we were born in. But don’t worry…a few more Memphis and Nashville entries will be up soon, and a hint of what we discovered in New York will follow!

--Nona and Emma

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Memphis: ALICJA

Alicja is singer and guitarist for an array of Memphis-based bands, including the Lost Sounds and the River City Tanlines. We meet her at the HiTone, an eclectic retro-styled rock club where she is tending door. On a break between sets, she pulls us into the back room for a chat, before shooing us back to see the bands for a special discount. She is clearly a fixture in the scene here, as every few moments the interview is interrupted by a hello or congratulations on her recent baby. Alicja (left, backstage at the HiTone) tells us she started playing music with girls in high school, but always related more to males in rock music. She found that guys would approach her and say they don’t often relate to music written by girls, but they liked hers.

Has she experienced any discrimination being a woman in the heavily male-dominated garage and punk scenes? She looks bored with the question, but lets us know “men always soundcheck you last, look embarrassed for you, and always try to give advice to you if you are in an all-girl band.” I ask her about how she relates to the tradition of ostentatious rocker front-women: “I’m a jeans and t-shirt kinda girl--I let my pride and vanity go out the door. I want to be able to play with the boys.” She admits though that she “stands out. But I use it to my advantage, without dressing slutty when I play.” The last time I saw Alicja play in Chicago, she was six months pregnant and rocking out in a flowing red dress, riling the crowd with her punk pregnancy performance. She tells us that she hopes that her newborn daughter will be impressed with her mom one day, that she’ll see her with a “flying v-guitar” and think “mom is a bad-ass.”

Does she relate to feminism? “I secretly get satisfaction from the feminist movement, but I have felt repelled by the term, and by women who can’t stand up for themselves without relating to the term. I know I am a great guitarist already.” Alicja’s attitude is typical of many woman musicians, who have felt singled out for their gender, and have traded irreverence and confidence for being pigeonholed. “I can’t live down the stereotype of always being a woman in rock. I don’t understand, women are not a race. We are not like the Aztecs or Eskimos. We are 50% of the world, why do we keep being defined as separate from it?”


Discussion Questions:
Question 1

Memphis: KRISTA

Krista, originally from Sioux Falls, SD, moved to the city with her girlfriend after she graduated from Macalester this year to teach high school biology in North Memphis. She doesn’t consider herself a feminist because “calling oneself a feminist is an excuse for bad behavior.” She explains, “A lot of feminists I know tend to be anti-man and anti-trans. They gloss over things like race and class. I took one class on feminism in college and found that there was a lot missing, so I decided to study rocks instead.”

As a teacher, she does notice gender issues forming early: “Girls in the high school I am teaching in either act cute and dumb, or tough—that’s how they deal with things. They will hide the strong, intelligent part of themselves in front of boys. I think a lot of women keep on doing that for a while.”


Discussion Questions:
Question 1

New Orleans, Day 3: KATE

We meet Kate at nightfall (left, on her fire escape), in the lively collective anarchist bookstore and arts space, The Iron Rail. Before heading up to her loft, she takes us on a tour of the various colorful happenings and resources this unassuming industrial building provides. The bookstore overflows with literature, zines, records, and attractive gutter punks. Zig zagging through the halls, we pass a yoga class, a female and trans friendly bike shop, a library for prisoners, we meet a trapeze artist, and somehow end up in the street being taught how to hula-hoop with industrial piping.

Finally, we brew some tea and get pens ready for Kate’s story. She had a feminist upbringing in Phoenix, but chooses “not to identify with that label anymore. Anarchist is a more powerful label…it means fighting hierarchies overall.” Kate became frustrated with the male-dominated anarchy scene some years back, but after attending the North American Anarchist conference in 2000 in LA she became inspired by the presence of “loud, brash anarchist women,” and decided to make a documentary to expose the voices of female and trans anarchists. So far she has video-interviewed over 200 subjects, and is still working with the hopes it will become “an interview compilation, sort of a library resource.”

Despite her continued involvement in anarchist action, Kate became frustrated with the stagnancy of rhetoric, and decided to push her interest in women’s health and social justice into a career as a midwife. She cites a pivotal moment as attending a birth the night before Katrina hit. “Before, I politically analyzed every situation, now I am more in touch with exhibiting compassion, using my hands. It has really changed the way I interact with people in this city…[In midwifery] I’ve found an outlet for my liberation politics---attending births and helping at the hospital, increasing patient info, giving power back to the mother.” Kate previously had worked at Planned Parenthood, but found it “disempowering”: “There was a desperation for professionalism and acceptance of the status quo. Non-profits like Planned Parenthood just delay and control resources. Many feminists (and at Planned Parenthood) automatically assume that if someone gets pregnant at a young age, they're not going to have any kind of life…it’s a weak analysis around gender combined with an undercurrent of racism and classism.”


Discussion Questions:
Question 1
Question 2

New Orleans, Day 3: SARAH

We met Sarah while getting a tour of the anarchist collective from Kate. She was stretching for a free evening yoga class, and invited us to join. We had an interview to attend, but we wouldn't continue on until she showed off some trapeze moves for us (pictured left).

Sarah is a writer, but has worked as a park ranger, boxer, aerialist, and department chair. She has been living New Orleans in 1997, and has since published a number of books and written for (“a website dedicated to chronicling life in post-apocalypse New Orleans”) in addition to continuing to perform and teach aerial arts. She was more than obliged to answer a few of our questions, here a few snippets from her responses:
“I went to college during the height of the Political Correctness Movement, so naturally I was exposed to a certain brand of feminism… it has developed so much negative connotation that I think people are afraid to define themselves as feminists, but those who treat men and women equally are feminists whether they realize it or not. Because of where I live, I see the most burning political issues as those related to economics.”


New Orleans, Day 3: NOEL

When we arrived at Noel’s house in our first night in New Orleans, we are greeted by a handful of lesbians watching a DVD of their drag king show they had just performed in. There was Noel on the screen, dancing onstage in guy’s clothing. The last time I had seen Noel, who is an old friend of one of my besties, she looked like a completely different person. She had longer, curly, angelic blond curls, wore tight jeans and lip gloss, and slept with guys. She was a ballerina and a flirt, the most stereotypically “feminine” woman you could possibly dream up. But as I observed her in the first few minutes of New Orleans, she looked happy, comfortable, and completely at ease with herself.

Days later, we finally go out to breakfast to interview Noel (left, on Magazine street), who moved to the city to meet her mom, a native New Orleanian. Noel’s mother had relocated to NOLA after her daughter's college graduation and had urged Noel to come down and do some work after Katrina. Noel worked for Common Ground for a little and established a media collective, then worked for non-profits and schools until she started doing video editing on a freelance basis. After a little while, we ask her about the dramatic recent changes in her life. “The process was slower than you think,” Noel tells us. “I kinda knew I was gay when I went abroad to Stockholm and the girls were all free to be a little bi. Then I took a look at Loren Cameron’s Body Alchemy [a book of transsexual portraits]. At first I thought, ‘Hmm, that’s kinda sexy,’ then ‘No, this is too alternative, too weird.’ But eventually I ended up dating a transmale for 9 months.”

Noel describes her straight life as unnerving for years—“I don’t know why, but I felt like I had to be the girliest girl. Other girls weren’t very nice to me, and guys were just ridiculous. I felt like I wasn’t well-respected and faced the most absurd amount of harassment, I even had gender nightmares…I made drastic changes to make my experience as a woman better…being with women feels so much better for me.” Noel does connect her recent experience to feminism, but notes that she was a feminist from the start—“My mom was a huge tomboy and I had elements of that, too. When I dated guys, I always wanted to take on some masculine traits and be ‘one of the guys’ and they just weren’t into it.”

She sees straight guys, out of everyone, as the most stuck in the gender binary. “If a guy hooks up with a guy, it’s epic, but with girls, it’s more accepted. People are progressing…but so far it’s just little pockets.” To Noel, the future of feminism includes expanding definitions of gender. “I really like the fact that in the queer community, genderbending is an actual activity, like our drag show. It’s just inefficient and unintuitive to separate genders.”


Discussion Questions:
Question 1

Friday, November 16, 2007

New Orleans, Day 2: MAYABA AND MANDISA

Mayaba and Mandisa, both young women active in the New Orleans branch of INCITE, meet up with us on Esplanade for late afternoon coffee. Mayaba, 27, is from DC and has been in New Orleans for 6 years. She works with INCITE, the New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic, and Critical Resistance, an organization against the prison industrial complex. “The complex needs sexism, racism, classism, and heterosexism in place, or else people would realize that locking people up is not about safety, it’s about money,” Mayaba says. “In New Orleans, if you look at the rebuilding, they are just more cops, they are rebuilding a new jail, and meanwhile kids aren’t getting educated.” CR is now working on getting amnesty for prisoners whose cases were affected by Katrina.

Mandisa, 22, born in New York, moved here when she was 10. Through her work at INCITE, she also got involved with the Women's Health Clinic and Women's Health and Justice Initiative, and now is "a budding sexual health literacy organizer." Mandisa also worked in public housing in New Orleans when the Storm hit, which, as she tells us, "got coopted by white people. Public housing [inhabitants] in New Orleans were mostly black women and children. I have a serious problem with the white male taking the lead on this struggle. You can sit in the back and be an ally, but you can't just lead the movement."

INCITE's emphasis on the overlap of gender and race made Mandisa realize that "women of color are the ones who lie in this crazy intersection of vulnerability and violence." After the Storm, she found that people were talking plenty about race and class, but not gender. "I saw myself on TV every day, I saw black women from the ages of 5 and 50. Yet there was no gender analysis of this storm? That was painful." Mandisa describes the women involved in these projects as "center[ing] the experiences of women of color in post-Katrina New Orleans and being committed to rendering ourselves visible." Mayaba adds, "When they shut down public housing, there was an 83 percent drop of female head-of-households in New Orleans, mostly low-income, mostly black. Now, the government is denying the fact that black women are back here, and they block federal grants and money to help this population. So the Women's Health Clinic is a point of resistance in itself…saying, 'Look, we're getting people in and providing these services…there is a need.'"

Both women consider themselves feminists, but not without qualifiers. "I identify as a queer black radical feminist," Mandisa (right) says. "Feminism should not be devoid of race or ethnicity." Also, "If you can't see the ideals of capitalism as oppressive, you ain't a feminist. Until we see that white supremacy and capitalism and patriarchy are all intertwined, then I question your gender politic." Mayaba agrees. "I'm a black radical feminist…and an anarchist on a given day," she says. Mayaba felt at age 14 that "something was not right." She was introduced to feminism through the white mainstream, mentioning Susan Faludi's Backlash as one of the first feminist texts she ever read. But most of it "left me stuck because it left race out of the picture." Mayaba thinks, like Mandisa, that white supremacy above all needs to be challenged. "I'm not going to focus on forming feminism when we have this massive problem. Things are really oppressive right now."

As both ladies realize they need to leave shortly, one of Mandisa's earlier comments sticks in my mind: "I know a lot of people put a lot of emphasis on how we identify. But at the same time I'm just like, 'Fuck! Just do the work.'"


New Orleans, Day 2: LYNN

Lynn, 25, meets us in the Marigny for some lunch. A self-proclaimed "army brat," she's gotten around but considers New Orleans her home because she spent a bunch of formative years here. She feels such a connection to the city that she abandoned her full scholarship to college in Philly because she hated the east coast so much. "I was a weird kid because I actually talked to people and looked them in the eye," Lynn says.

Lynn (left, in front of an abandoned mansion on Esplanade) became a feminist in her early teens. "My parents started telling me to look for a husband in 8th grade," she confesses. "They told me that college is a waste of money for a woman because I should be a wife and mother. Feminism made sense to me when I was told that simply because I was a woman, I wouldn't have a home." After Katrina hit, her sense of being a woman became even stronger. "At one point there was one woman for every 25 men, and everyone tried to grope you. There was an extreme intensity in the air."

Lynn's "live-in-the-moment," plan-phobic attitude also coalesced after Katrina, since after the Storm, "locals realized that there was a big bad world out there...I gave up on the planning, because if you can't take joy out the moment, then why do you bother?" But, she says, "If I had one life goal, it would be working in sex education and sexual health." Lynn gets to talking about her two jobs--being a bartender at a Hustler strip club on Bourbon Street, and a saleswoman at a sex toy shop. "Sex work is an inherently feminist act," she proclaims. "Working voluntarily in the sex industry is lessening the gender dichotomy and reclaiming something that patriarchy has made us shameful about." She tells us that most women at her club love what they do. Lynn sees burlesque troupes like Big Star in Austin or alt-porn sites like Suicide Girls as no more or less feminist than mainstream strip clubs and porn. "The industry has really high standards, very regulated. Also, a lot of women are turned on by mainstream porn!" She also describes the everyday triumphs of working at the sex shop, telling us about how just the other day she enlightened a 60-year-old woman about her orgasmic clitoris.

Imagine our surprise, then, when
Lynn suddenly says, "Feminists are such in a rush to be inclusive that people make too many things fit with the feminist movement. Sex really shouldn't be important." But didn't we just spend the last 45 minutes talking about Lynn's sex-positive attitude, how stripping is a feminist act, how women should know how to give themselves an orgasm? We are confused but Lynn stands her ground. "Talking about sex is treating the symptoms and not the disease. Until we change society's views, we will still have to be teaching 60-year-old women how to get off."


Thursday, November 15, 2007


Jessica, who teaches digital media and graphic design at a high school, found us on the web and invited us via email to a feminist party in our honor. We were much obliged and drove west from New Orleans in eager anticipation.

Weaving through the party, we pick up tidbits from more than twenty women, including two of Jessica’s older mentors. It is a tight-knight community, one that bands together in the conservative region, and has forums, radio shows, and frequent soirees. The buzz of conversation is fascinating, whether chain-smoking around the campfire, or eating cookies in the kitchen.

Two recent college graduates tell me of being called “baby-killers” in the newspaper for working at Planned Parenthood, even though their branch doesn’t even perform abortions--only one in Louisiana does. Another girl tells us about being drugged during the growing roofie problem on the LSU campus (don’t worry, her friends got to her first). An hour away from the Hollywood of the South we talk to a budding queer filmmaker. Some of the ladies are headed to Critical Sass soon, the women-friendly version of the popular bike march. A self-proclaimed “triple-threat” actress/singer/writer has just today auditioned for the Baton Rouge production of Steel Magnolias. These are accomplished and challenging women. There is a ceramics artist and teacher, a graphic designer, an attorney, a horror movie scholar, tons of PhD students, one of whom is even writing on the way the Internet and blogosphere is forging a new feminist future. Because we can’t interview everyone personally, we resort to hand-scrawled Xeroxed questionnaires (wait for the book!), which everyone fills out diligently before I yell, “Who’s ready for their mugshot?”

Tonight, we learn many things. That Baton Rouge has the most bad-ass feminist posse, full of dynamic women who hold their own amidst a dearth of feminism in Louisiana. That while singing "Me and Bobby McGee" on karaoke, you should be prepared for the "na-na-na"s. That just a little blog could create a huge feast including sesame kale, garlic pizza, three bean soup, and home baked focaccia. Talk about Southern hospitality (oh and thanks for letting me pass out on your couch...)


New Orleans, Day 1: Seen and Heard

“I know we’re the ones who bring people into this crap ass world. I know I’m a woman, but I like to keep things PG. When people talk about their vaginas, I’m like errr…”--Charlotte

“I don’t know if I’m a feminist.

I believe in equality.”--Angie

New Orleans, Day 1: LOYOLA LADIES

On our first morning in New Orleans, we visit Loyola University’s tree-lined campus to meet up with 3 young women. Our first appointment is with Puja, a junior biology major minoring in business. Born and raised in New Orleans, Puja is president of an on-campus group called Bridging the Gap, which promotes awareness of racial and cultural injustices not by “scolding people, but teaching them how to accept others.” Puja (left) doesn’t call herself a feminist: “I’m defined as a woman, but that’s not all I am. Being Hindu and raised in a Catholic city, Hinduism defines me more than being female.” Puja feels connected to her cultural traditions, and she’s “not completely against” arranged marriages because they are “based on compromises and family—everyone gets to be involved.” When we touch on the topic of body image and young girls, Puja has a refreshingly positive point of view: “People becoming anorexic just to look like a movie star is really sad to me. I personally feel that I’ve never met an ugly person before. I believe that it is our duty as human beings to outweigh people’s good qualities over their bad.”

An hour later, we hook up with two other girls, Maria (right) and Azebe, who have never met but seem to easily bounce off each other’s ideas. Maria’s family immigrated to Kenner (just outside of New Orleans) from Nicaragua, and moved to Miami after Katrina. Maria, a sociology major, wants to travel after college and maybe become a human rights lawyer. Azebe, the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, cites the Storm as a major turning point in her life and wants to join Doctors Beyond Borders when she graduates.

They both consider themselves feminists—Maria because she wants to be a “strong and independent person” and Azebe (left) because “I think I can accomplish anything.” Both women are politically progressive, and don’t seem to put a box around the definition of feminism. “Having children is compatible with feminism,” Azebe tells us, “because for every amazing person, every Martin Luther King, there’s a strong woman raising them.” Their views differ, though, on how feminism can conflict with traditional ideals, such as the Christian sentiment that infiltrated both of their childhoods. Maria tells us about her senior project assignment at her Catholic private high school—to plan out her own wedding. “I didn’t like that people were choosing my life for me,” Maria says. “It scared me to think that women were taught that marriage was all there is—there’s so much more!” But Azebe has a more personal interpretation of her faith, telling us, “Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I’m a feminist. The way I see it, God wouldn’t want women to waste their gifts.”


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Austin, third night: CARMEN AND YASMINE

Tonight we share pints with Yasmine and Carmen (left and right respectively, at Beauty Bar) in a balmy beer garden in west Austin. The two have never met: Yasmine is a friend of mine from high school, and I know Carmen from college. But they have a lot in common, both with each other and the other women we have talked to in Austin. Young accomplished activists, they came to Austin after college seeking the progressive community and organizations here.

Carmen is originally from Austin, and works with Erika at PODER. Her parents are both activists and musicians, and taught her that her environment and food are political issues. She sees class and race issues trumping feminism: “movements are always going to have identity lines, especially when peoples are not imprisoned the same way.” She still feels the need for balance between masculinity and femininity. “We need a transformation of the aggression that seems natural to men, that causes abuse in relationships and the violence born of war.”

Yasmine is French-Persian, grew up in NYC, and works at a firm that helps disenfranchised immigrants and refugees. “I can’t identify with the word feminism because it is not a stable term. I would never say it with a period at the end of the sentence. I’m against societal misogyny...but [poet] Erin Jackson said something like, 'if I shave my legs have I killed the revolution?' ” We all giggle, and in the same breath Yasmine attests, “Of course I’m a feminist if I’m going to be real, but my head gets so wrapped up in all the different movements and meaning.” Her dad is a lefty poly sci prof, and the extremism he dealt with in Iran influenced the progressive way he brought up Yasmine. Yasmine notes, “To deny that sexism effects us is a direct result of sexism, of being taught to be a quiet woman. Claiming to be ‘humanist’ is a result of sexism. At the same time, it is a privilege to be able to say you’re not a feminist, to not feel that anger.”


Discussion Question:
Question 1

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Austin, Day 3: INGRID

We meet Ingrid, 20, for a quick Mexican lunch. She is a history and philosophy senior at the University of Texas-Austin and was raised in DC, Connecticut, and NYC. Ingrid wants to be a journalist in the deep South after graduation. Another one of the ladies who reached out to us through our blog, Ingrid heard about us through her professor Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Roe v. Wade. She considers herself a feminist—“I would have winced at the word a few years ago,” she says, but after being in a controlling relationship, she realized how important it was to take her experience as a woman seriously.

Ingrid has a serene, unassuming, yet wise look about her, reflected in her voice as she explains her views on feminist theory: “I get fed up with the way academic feminism de-emphasizes male thinkers and writers. There’s a reason there aren’t all that many classic women writers—up until recently, there was no birth control and women had fewer options. It’s important to give yourself role models regardless of gender. It’s not good to be too worried about ‘patriarchal’ literature.” She sees academia as the only realm keeping the word “feminism” alive—but, she says, “even if the term seems outdated, the issues haven’t died at all."


Discussion Questions:
Question 1

Austin, Day 3: ABBY AND GINGER

Abby and Ginger met at UT-Austin freshman year. They share a similar ethos and wide-eyed gushy exuberance. Neither identifies as “feminist” per se, but as Abby puts it, “I’m probably going to get pissed when men stand in my way.” They count themselves as members of the boy’s club. Abby feels closer to dudes in general, counting Ginger as one of her few close female friends. Ginger remembers from an early age scoffing in the face of gender roles, wanting to “play football, hunt, repair motorcycles.”

Abby (left) was raised in Austin, is studying biology, and has hopes of teaching after graduation. She doesn’t sense much gender inequality in her science classes, but “likes surprising people” with her smarts. Abby sees feminism mostly as a historical series of movements, but notes that “women still need to be protected” in society. She is most passionate about battling meth addiction, the Bush administration, and the obesity epidemic. Ginger's eyes fill with fiery light when food and health come up. It is her lifelong goal to start an organic farm. When she says “the manipulation of food in this country hurts my feelings,” you know she means it.

That isn’t all Ginger (right) feels should be left natural. She doesn’t shave her legs, and gets constantly called “feminist” as a result. She explains: “it’s yet another expectation society puts on us” but I have feeling it has much to do with being a women as it does her spiritual passion for not fucking with “the gifts God gives us.” Ginger was raised strict Baptist near San Antonio, and although she’s not a fan of organized religion, she found herself quitting school last year and joining a 25-person Christian house. She was disillusioned with the excessiveness of her life, the intangibility of textbooks and school, wanted real “life experience,” so she sold her car and railed across Europe. She wanted “Truth, not knowledge.” It was a life awakening, she tells us with a possessed glow: “God must have sent me an angel.” To bring it full circle, Ginger and Abby delve into talking about how access to birth control is the catalyst to change for women. Without it, Ginger says, we cannot “control our destiny, our endless possibility of being.”


Discussion Questions:
Question 1
Question 2

Monday, November 12, 2007


Texas organizers are a different breed entirely from your garden variety east or west coast activist. Austin, an oasis of liberal bustle in the thick of Texas’s vast conservatism, seems to be a springboard for bad-ass women committed to local organizing. We talked to 3 native Texans these last few days, all of whom feel an urgency to put into action the change they want to see.

Elsa (left), the chief-of-staff for state representative Trey Martinez Fischer, chose the world of politics to pursue what she believes in. She grew up in the border town Pharr, surrounded by “incredibly tough” Mexican women and her activist father. She is a feminist, putting issues like sexual health and family planning in the forefront of her politics. Elsa splits her time between Austin and San Antonio, which makes her contemplate the dynamic of activism in each place. “It can be soul-killing to organize outside of Austin,” she says, “but it’s tough to be in an urban area where the same ideas are thrown around.” Mostly she sees her job as “connecting the dots,” and besides convincing the other side, “work[ing] with like-minded groups to build coalitions.” Elsa is hopeful about the future of feminism. “If you’re an organizer, you have to be optimistic about change…or else you might as well get off the wagon right now.”

Laurie (right), the 27-year-old political director of Texas’s branch of NARAL, was born and raised in both Austin and South Texas. She has spent years committed to pro-choice activism in Texas, reaching out to as diverse groups by arguing in logical, relatable terms. “Of course I am a feminist, but I would never call myself that at the Capitol,” she says. “Why poke that hornet’s nest? I tell people, ‘Texas is the #1 state for teen pregnancy—at least we can all agree on pregnancy prevention, right?’” Meanwhile, she says, she frames the issue differently when talking with Mexican-American women in border towns. Condemning teenage pregnancy is “not appropriate,” Laurie says; in communities where young pregnancy is part of the culture, she frames the issue as the right to prenatal health care. No matter who she is talking to, her Texas roots come in handy. “I’m aware, and I think it comes across to people, that I’m sweeping my own doorstep.”

Erika (below), also 27, grew up in the border town of Eagle Pass in a trailer park. Her father was a Tejano musician and her mother worked at Walmart for many years before she got her teaching degree, a goal which Erika also pursued. But later, Erika became involved with PODER, which she now co-directs. PODER was started by a group of Chicanos to challenge environmental injustices in East Austin, an area to which people of color were once forcibly relocated. Erika would have called herself a feminist a few years ago but now feels less comfortable with the title. “I call myself a woman or a woman of color…but also I don’t have a problem with the term ‘Chicana feminist.’” She acknowledges that feminism isn't a priority for most women, explaining “If you asked the women of Juarez facing femicide if they were feminists, they would say, ‘I don’t care, I’m just trying to get my children back.’” Regardless of the barriers between women and the issues they face, she hopes to see all women “come together somehow” in the future.


Discussion Questions:
Question 1

Austin, Day 2: LIZA

Liza is originally from New York, moved to Austin after her Americorp service in New Mexico, and now teaches at a public high school. She is also a member of a mostly male anarchist soccer team--“One day, a woman player told me she was sick of playing soccer and not having enough confidence for it, like what happened in soccer was the same as the way we are in life.” She told us her thoughts about feminism in Bookwoman, one of the only feminist bookstore in the South:

“The idea of feminism is almost part of my invisible knapsack—I have always taken it for granted that all genders should be equal. In my life, it’s always seemed like kinda of a moot point. Only when I come up against a challenge do I think about it, but that doesn’t happen often. I don’t feel limited by my gender all that much.”


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Austin, first night: BIG STAR BURLESQUE TROUPE

The minute we land in Austin, we meet with Big Star, a plus size burlesque troupe. Here are the ladies:

Raine (left), 22, was born in Austin, has been doing burlesque for a year and is the head seamstress in soft goods for (a lingerie company). She lives with her husband in the house we have all gathered in, and also dabbles in phone sex for extra money on the side. She thinks of herself as a “modern, hip feminist,” one who got married when she was 20 because she wanted to, not because she was “pregnant or pressured.”

Cait, 18, is from Michigan, and after dropping out of high school, moved to Austin for a month and works with Raine at the soft goods manufacturer. She fell in love with Austin after a visit in July. She’s a feminist--“not an extreme feminist, but what Raine said…a modern one.”

Florinda (right), 29, is a “playwright, artist, activist, singer, educator” and a through-and-through Texas girl, raised outside of Houston. She works for the non-profit the Theater Action Project. She is a self-proclaimed feminist (although not an equalist: “I would fight in solidarity for women to do anything, but that doesn’t mean I would want to go fight in the war.”)

Rebecca, 22, is originally from California and has been in Austin for two years. She is a corporate recruiter by day—“every other day is a struggle to the top”—but doesn’t want to stereotype herself as a feminist.

Originally from Queens, Stephanie (left), 29, is the founder and “mother hen” of Big Star burlesque. She had the idea a year ago. Always interested in pin-ups but, as a larger woman, she had to find a venue for it. Now she runs a full variety show and is a telephone dominatrix—“the best-paid acting job I ever had”—where she can make upwards of $2 a minute.


Stephanie started the troupe because she wanted plus size ladies to feel a sort of “freedom in their own skin.” Her family never made her ashamed of her size, but she always felt like she had to remind herself, ‘Be careful, keep covered.’ Stephanie tells us that Big Star has more of a feminist slant than other troupes because it presents big women as “normal, beautiful, sensual, bold…campy, smart, sexy and entertaining,” without having to be merely “sassy ladies or comedic fodder.”

Most of the women seemed to have had a “lightbulb” moment when they realized they wanted to do burlesque. Rebecca (right) saw it as a chance to “get her femininity back,” being raised in an environment where women were the breadwinners. Florinda saw it as a way to make other bigger women feel sexy. Very thin once upon a time, Florinda gained weight later in life and realized how embarrassed other big women felt. She wanted to somehow tell them, ‘You ain’t seen a big girl like this before.’ Cait (below) adds, “Burlesque was a huge feminist step. It seemed to be a stab at the status quo."

I ask Stephanie and the other women why burlesque is often more considered “feminist” than, say, stripping. The consensus is that it’s a more female-run industry and concept, and a conscious decision to participate rather than having to strip for a living. The ladies make a distinction between class and education at this point. With the exception of Stephanie, none of the women in the troupe have a college degree, but all make enough money to sacrifice a Sunday to practice burlesque. “We’re all here by choice and don’t have to be working that third job,” Stephanie says. Florinda agrees. “We get to practice art. And I’ve always recognized art as a privilege.” All the women agree that living in Austin gives them easy access to an intellectual, liberal environment. Cait, when she explains to her friends what she’s doing, they react by saying, ‘Wait, so you’re a stripper who works at a factory?’ But in a community like this, those pursuits can take on a whole new meaning. They can not only be a way to make a living, but also a way to feel empowered, independent, and sexy, regardless of size or interest.


Discussion Questions:
Question 1

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Melody had invited us to stay with her in Tulsa a few weeks ago, finding out about our project through a post on Feministing. She was raised in Colorado Springs in a traditionally Christian household and is a senior at Tulsa University. Melody, 21, invites her friend Mana to the interview, a graduate of TU who “fell in love with Tulsa when I realized I could do a lot of good here.” Mana, 24 (right), was born in Oklahoma after her parents paid a smuggler to bring them over from Iran. Both women identify as feminists. Mana came to feminism “through a natural progression of being socially conscious.” She jokes that her “heart bleeds for everybody,” telling us that people furrow their brows at the fact that she, a straight woman, works at a LBGT non-profit. “Justice issues are all kind of the same—everyone deserves access to resources.”

Melody (below) possesses an intensity that is countered only by her delicate brown ringlets, porcelain skin and glassy green eyes. In her most serious yet understated tone she tells, “I know this sounds religious, but feminism saved my life.” We both crane forward for the story. “I was in this abusive relationship, and everyone around me was telling me to get out of it. But I was in denial for so long, really isolated…then I started reading stuff about feminism and looking at blogs and livejournals.” Mana murmurs from the couch, “God bless the internet.” Melody says that if it were the seventies and her only option was to go to a “consciousness-raising group,” she would have never made it, but that the internet made her realize, “I was not alone…but plugged into something larger.” She even discovered as she was coming to terms with her abusive relationship that her mother was contemplating her own divorce. “She had a strict, controlling husband, and was a stay-at-home mom for 11 years because it was the good, Christian thing to do…but she made it clear to me that she had regrets and didn’t want the same thing to happen to me.”

Both girls agree that the blogosphere is where feminism really thrives, a place where, as Mana puts it, “the words are more important than the faces.” In states like Oklahoma and Colorado, where feminists are few and far between, online communities allow these ideas to exist in a place where they can’t physically live. Something clicks in Emma and me. At the start of GIRLdrive, the whole blog thing mystified us. We never thought of ourselves as the “blogger” types—we barely knew what a blog was. Even up until now, we loved the responses and were touched by our devoted readers, but still didn’t quite get it.

It now hit us that our initial ignorance about blogs had nothing to do with personal preference—we just had always had those ideas at our fingertips. We needed only to look as far as our own livingrooms to find bookshelves crammed with feminist literature, only as far as our teeming metropolis of New York City to find strong, supported women. Technology, our prime source of angst by the end of our Southwest stretch, suddenly seemed vital to feminism's future, and the only hope for revising the narrow, inaccessible label it constantly drags around.


Discussion Questions:
Question 1

Friday, November 9, 2007

November 9th: ELLEN WILLIS, 1941-2006

My mother, journalist, feminist and cultural critic Ellen Willis, died a year ago today. I’ve been honoring her by reliving the time following her death—obsessively sifting through writing by her and about her. After the funeral, it was sensory overload for weeks on end, not only because responses to death are emotional hurricanes, but because every lazy, indeterminate goal that I had to be both a writer and a feminist suddenly came alive. I began poring over my mother’s writing, filling in the blanks in my knowledge about the women’s movement. I learned how it had literally started from a few women realizing they had common ground and deciding to talk about it. It was a crash course in American feminism, a history lesson in the form of anecdotes, tearful elegies, and primary documents.

At the same time, people who had been affected by my mother’s work all felt drawn to me, to fill the space Mom had left behind. They handed me letters, old papers, photos, pamphlets from feminist conferences, old issues of The Village Voice containing scathing critiques in my mother’s weekly column. I had read my mother’s books in high school, and again in college, each time being moved by the clarity, wit, and subtlety of Mom’s writing but never feeling an urge to identify with the feminist part. But after November 9th, the feminist wheels in my head, once moving perfunctorily, began furiously churning. It was a mere couple weeks after this day last year, over eggs and mimosas in NYC, when GIRLdrive was born.

I knew that a day after she died, NPR had replayed an interview she did in 1989, but for some reason I never got around to listening to it. Every time I’d think of it, I would happen to be checking my email at home on my dad’s prehistoric computer, whose speakers are defunct. I’d think, ‘Tomorrow at work I’ll take a listen’ but would always forget. I stumbled upon it today, in the throes of this road trip, and discovered that it was mostly about how being a mother--I was 5 at the time--had affected her brand of feminism.

My heart stopped when I heard this part:

“I think Stanley [my father] and I do our best in good faith to try to share everything. But then there always are things, like I really have a driving phobia…and definitely I know that its connected with all sorts of things about female-ness. So Stanley does virtually all of the driving when we’re in the city together. Nona has been seeing this…At one point, she even said to me, ‘You have to have a penis to drive, right, Mama?’ I feel like this is really on my agenda as a big thing that I have to deal with… I try to make her understand that this is just my weirdness…Now she sort of sits in the drivers seat and she pretends that she’s driving and she really wants to learn to drive. The most important thing is that she should get the idea that it’s great for her to try to do.”

And I did get that idea—never questioned that I could get my license and have a car. Now, I am dependent on my driver’s license to finish the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m really hoping that, somehow, she can see that she did it right.


Kansas City, third morning: MARIA

Flustered and late, we are greeted with breakfast at Maria Buszek's house on a street lined with autumn leaves. Maria, a third waver, has been a feminist since age 9, when a new papal law banned her from being an altar girl in late-seventies Detroit. "Does the pope think we're not as good as boys?" she asked the adults around her, and realized that "this gender thing was a big deal." Raised in a Catholic family, her dad's "denigrating comments about feminism indicated that it was a powerful, righteous thing."

She is a professor of art history at the Kansas City Art Institute and is the author of Pin-Up Grrrls, which explores the history of the pin-up and its long-standing connection to feminism. She is now working on a book, inspired by some of her crafty students, that is "bridging the art/craft divide" and acknowledging the cohort of artists who are experimenting with craft media. She says that "domestic media," like the subject of her first book, is a concept that "some faculty just doesn't get." It pisses her off when academia hastily judges whether a topic or a piece of art is feminist or not, and Emma fervently agrees. Emma, in her senior thesis, had examined the 1999 exhibit "Another Girl, Another Planet," a group show of young women photographers whose glossy, fashion-y images were harshly criticized for perceived misogyny and superficiality. Maria rolls her eyes. "The minute artists use titillation to attract journalists, they get attacked for it. The press says, 'These are the only images I will pay attention to, how dare you create these images?'"

I bring up the "Girls Gone Wild" phenomenon then. Does she think sexual empowerment has gone too far? "Some women do see this as liberating, but it seems to be an uninformed feeling of power," Maria says. "What we have to find out is what leads these women to believe in the power of showing their boobs at Mardi Gras if they can't even ask for a raise at work." But she thinks it's disrespectful to young women for older feminists to "take the scolding route…assume that these women don't know what they're doing." She has a lot of faith in our generation, but "simply reclaiming one's sexuality is never enough...sort of the narcissistic, Courtney Love, 'feminism for one.' Young women should be aware that their sexuality is a public matter."


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Kansas City: MONICA

Monica (above): 25, was raised in Texas and Kansas, born to “free spirit” Mexican-Indian father and an immigrant German mother, former air force worker (kicked out and arrested for smoking pot), aspiring art teacher.

“I’m raunchy. I’m insulting. I’m sexually harassing. I exploit women. I want to grow up and make my house all pretty and plant flowers, just sit and drink and not have to bust my ass. Most of all, I’m not a feminist because I don’t view issues as a woman. I don’t separate things in terms of gender. Sometimes I feel androgynous…I really feel that I can live my life equally.”

Discussion Questions:
Question 1
Question 2

Kansas City: CRAIG

We are staying with Craig, an artist who I met in NYC many years ago. He hooked us up with all of the great ladies we interviewed in KC, including his girlfriend Angela. After all this we get curious on his thoughts on feminism. He speaks with spastic eloquence, letting insights roll out as if he has been thinking of them for years, but just found the words for the first time…

“I feel insecure about claiming feminism, it is not my movement to own. I more see myself as a male operating between two extremes, two gender lines. I don’t think the movement ended. It never went away. From an objective point of view, I see feminism as ongoing industry, created and needing to be maintained. There is nothing wrong per se with the feminism industry (magazines, books, classes, products), but it can objectify the issue, turn it back on itself, create extremism and separatism that in turn reinforces stereotypes to the world (and creates the other side of extremism). It seems that the feminist industry can create a dangerous political correctness. I am worried that it is not ok to be free anymore. I think to a lot of people feminism is simply associated with sexual harassment, which of course is not right. Movements are supposed to be about change, but this can’t be when it’s stuck in an industry that replicates itself.

But ok, I don’t know shit about shit. I know I am not a woman, but my thoughts are based on a thoughtful process of observing every kind of woman and culture around me. I really respect strong independent woman, and ultimately, I embrace femininity for it’s difference from me.”


Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Angela and her friend, Joey, meet us at Monica’s house for a cup of coffee. Angela, 26, is originally from Kansas City, and although she plans to open a boutique and gallery with her boyfriend, she has a degree in biology and is now working at a lab. Joey, 23, grew up in Denver, wants to be a costume designer, and now sews and crafts freelance wherever she is needed at a show. They both tentatively consider themselves feminists, but they both shy away from the term because of the negative stereotypes. We got to talking about how each of their professions are directly associated with one gender, and they had some interesting things to say:

Joey (right) on the female-dominated field of costume design:

“I’m surrounded by gay guys and women. Little boys don’t sit around thinking about being a costume designer…or maybe they’re not allowed to. I’m sure a lot of men liked it in college but would never major in it because they wouldn’t want a negative label. I think women have passed men in the ability to blend gender roles.”

Angela (left) added,

“Yeah, because men feel like they would lose more, while we only have things to gain. Science teachers would say to the women students, ‘Prove them wrong that men are better at science.’ But in the workplace the doctors are overwhelmingly male, and the nurses are mostly women. I think it’s because nurses get shit on all the time, and also because they’re seen as more maternal. Its funny, though—women nurses are always encouraging other women to go into the profession.”


Denver: SZOKE

Szoke (right): 23, waitress, actress, went to Temple University, New York transplant. Wavers on the feminist question because she believes in the ideals but "isn't doing anything about it."

On the service industry:

“Sometimes I can’t believe I have a job that allows people to treat me certain ways. But I like interacting with people. Waitressing is good money and usually easy. Male waiters are more respected, though. There are always going to be those people who get off on the idea that a woman is serving them.”


Discussion Questions:
Question 1


We interview Mei-Mei over tea the next morning on her sunny balcony overlooking a prehistoric southwest landscape (pictures lost). Mei-Mei is sixty, and has a regal and wise air about her. She is draped in an angular cream tunic, and her calm pointedness resembles the Agnes Martin paintings that hang in her bedroom. She was born in Beijing, from a long line of strong women, her grandmother being the first woman to have a formal education in China. “These dandelions are like a yellow blanket,” she uttered at age five, beginning her long career as a poet. She was the first Chinese-American woman on record to publish a volume of poetry, and as a result of her field, she very much considers herself a feminist, publishing through Kelsey St. Press, an experimental women’s poetry venue. Mei-Mei remained completely focused on her career until she had her daughter at 42, who is “the most significant person” in her life now. She sees an over-stressed, over-competitive streak in our generation, and believes we don’t have enough time to figure out who we are, which will inevitably effect modern feminism. She doesn’t feel much allegiance to “European principles of heroic individuality,” intuiting that a new feminism should “change the worldview to be more about unity and connectedness. Gender now has only elements of convention rather than an absolute.”