Friday, August 14, 2009

Sarah Haskins on turning 30, and becoming OLD

30 is the new 80, folks, when you're a blond woman with short hair who enjoys talking into the camera. So what do you do to feel 29 again? Buy lots of pills. Take that, rheumatoid arthritis!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Quick hit: asshole at the NYT on J.C. Penney

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

I've read some pure nasty in fashion articles, but it takes a lot to make me actually gasp out loud. So congratulations, Cintra Wilson of the New York Times - you are officially enough of an asshole to shock me. Her latest article takes on J.C. Penney, the national chain that had the gall to invade Manhattan. In case you thought she was offended merely by the polyester-ness of the clothes, or the fact that it seems to remind her of her mother (who may have forced Wilson, doubtless kicking and screaming, into something polyester as a child), never fear - Wilson manages to convey her distaste for people above a size 6, the Midwest, and anyone who has ever found clothing they like at Penney's, ever.

What really amazes me is that Wilson touches on one of the fashion industry's most basic idiocies: most people in this country are not a size 2, but would still like to clothe themselves. Some even have the money to do so at the outrageous prices that the fashion industry dictates. But Wilson, in her infinite wisdom, seems to find it kind of amusing that J.C. Penney is attempting to provide this significant segment of the population with clothing that they would enjoy wearing. God forbid that a person who is a size 14 would enjoy shopping.

Wilson condescendingly observes that J.C. Penney's strategy of stocking their racks with sizes higher than the stray size 8 is "really, remarkably smart." She goes on to say, sounding rather pleased with herself, that "This niche has been almost wholly neglected on our snobby, self-obsessed little island. New York boutiques tend to cater to the stress-thin, morbidly workaholic, Pilates-tortured Manhattan ectomorph. But there are many more body types who vote with their hard-earned dollars, who appreciate a clean new space in Midtown to buy affordable clothes in hard-to-find sizes, as well as attentive service from attitude-free professionals." But obviously, if you have the good fortune to be among the ranks of the snobby, stress-thin Manhattanites, you never look back. Because then you can write bratty columns like these, mocking the rest of America.

Wilson makes J.C. Penney sound like it was created solely as an amusing outing for the bored Manhattan fashionista. Ooh, a fun scavenger hunt for a size 2! What happens when you try on a medium-sized tee shirt? Can you escape from the hordes of proletarian rabble unscathed? The only thing I can say for her is that she goes after male and female Penney's-goers with equal veracity - no sexism here! But it really shows just how dumb the fashion industry can be. The idea that people want models who look like them (Wilson comments with relish on the "obesity" of the mannequins) or clothes that make them feel attractive, regardless of their size, could earn people like Wilson millions, if they could only duck their heads out of snob-land for a second and deign to serve the unwashed masses.

I can't believe the NYT, supposedly the most respected newspaper in America, printed this. You'd think that in a recession, with the future of print journalism looking grim, they wouldn't make active efforts to insult most of the country, but who knows, maybe some editors really, really want early retirement.

A great post from Feministing about "safe space"

by Josh Franklin

In which it is argued that while creating safe spaces is impossible, we should strive to create accountable space. I think both the piece and the comments that follow are a worthwhile read.

I've been skeptical of the construction of EW as a safe space, simply because despite the fact that we cover a diverse range of global issues, we write from a privileged position as students at a prestigious American university, often inhabiting the top of hierarchies of both race and class. Maybe it's my own male privilege that blinds me to the importance of safe space here on EW, and please tell me if you feel that way in the comments.

In "There are no safe spaces", Jos writes:

When framing social justice spaces, especially those centered around learning, I have come more and more to embrace the idea of accountable space. Accountability means being responsible to oneself and each other for our own words. It means entering a space with good intentions but understanding that we all screw up and need to accept responsibility for our mistakes. It means being OK with and open to being called out. It means acknowledging when others are triggered and when we feel pain and working to learn and grow from this experience. And it requires something incredibly difficult, a trust in those we share a space with that their intentions are good, that they mean well just like we do, that we are all in a process of learning and growing and that making mistakes is part of how this happens.

What do you think of this? I believe that is important for EW--as a community--to articulate its goals in terms of being a safe space in order to shape the way we run the blog, especially in terms of post content and comment moderation. So I'd love to hear your comments! And, hope everyone is having a wonderful summer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quick hit: funny feminist faux-pas

by Jordan Kisner

Hillary Clinton lost her temper on Monday at a Q&A session with Congolese students when a student asked her “What does Mr. Clinton think through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton” about the World Bank’s interference in a Chinese trade deal with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Visibly surprised and offended, Clinton responded scathingly, “Wait, you want me to tell you what my husband thinks?? My husband is not the Secretary of State, I am. So you ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion; I am not going to be channeling my husband.” The last sentence in particular dripped with disdain. (For the full effect, see the video here.)

Score one for feminist Hil, right? After the ridiculous coverage of the Clintons since Bill’s trip to North Korea (polls concluding Bill is now more popular than Hillary, the endless discussion on network news of whether or not Bill upstaged her trip to the Congo, etc.) it was satisfying to watch her demand to be taken seriously as a political figure completely independently of her husband’s achievements, even if her delivery was a little bit harsh.

Except, (and herein lies the rub) the question had been mistranslated. Turns out the student had asked if she could speak to President Obama’s thoughts on the issue.


Unfortunately, this may wind up successfully upstaging the real intention behind her trip to the Congo: raising awareness about the devastating rates of sexual violence –notably, the use of rape as a weapon of war—in the region. This week, she announced a $17 million plan to combat sexual violence in the Congo. The program will train doctors, give victims video cameras to document the sexual violence, and train local law enforcement to arrest and prosecute rapists (info pulled from a great NYT article. I suggest you read the whole thing.)

“We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender based violence,” she said, also declaring this outbreak of sexual violence “evil in its basest form.”

So, despite the gaffe, I think Hillary Clinton deserves a big feminist round of applause for her work (and sound bites) this week. Just make sure you get the good translator before you ask her a question!

Video montage that will make you mad

The New Agenda has a (yes, somewhat lengthy, but very good) montage of clips of sexism in the media, interestingly juxtaposed with bits of pop culture from 50 years ago. The result is unnerving. Enjoy, and try not to have access to sharp objects or Fox News commentators directly after viewing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thinking outside the (birth control pill) box

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

A few days before I left for Vietnam earlier this summer, I went to my doctor to get a prescription for malaria medication (which I turned out not to need), and ended up getting into a long conversation about birth control. I had recently gone off a low-estrogen form of the birth control pill, because since starting it I had acquired strange new mood swings, gained a few pounds, and - I'll be honest here - I was terrible at remembering to take it. My doctor asked me about the NuvaRing, and the IUD. He gave me a lot of booklets. I flipped through them, trying to remember a workshop I had attended in high school, where a Planned Parenthood employee quickly explained most forms of birth control, so that we could answer questions if they came up during a phone banking (they didn't). I had a couple of friends on the NuvaRing, but still didn't know much about it. The IUD was completely foreign, and frankly a little scary.

"So you just insert this piece of plastic into my uterus," I asked my doctor. "And it stays there for five years. And I don't get pregnant." It seemed too simple to be true. Didn't it get infected up there, or fall out, or something?

"Well, it doesn't protect against STIs," said my doctor. "But neither did your pill."

Condoms have achieved a secure position in American pop culture, even though we may not all have been treated to the condom-on-banana practice session that some health classes employ (the Virginia public schools did not think it was necessary for us to know how to use a condom, as long as we could recognize one in the wild). So has the birth control pill. Not so with most other forms of contraception, which is very unfortunate, considering that some insurance companies don't cover the pill, which can run up to $60 a month. My own track record with the pill also suggests that even though the optimal success rate may be 99%, most of us are not capable of remembering to take a pill at exactly the same time every day, or even remembering to take it at all. This, as you might imagine, reduces the effectiveness of the pill quite drastically.

The IUD, on the other hand, sits quietly in your uterus for five to ten years, costs around $300 at insertion (you can't beat $5 a month for birth control, and that's if your health insurance doesn't cover the IUD - and most do), and, even better, can be hormone-free. Female condoms are made from plastic, which is great news for people with latex allergies, and they even increase female pleasure. The NuvaRing and the birth control patch work almost exactly the same way as the pill, so it provides the same benefits such as acne reduction and lighter periods, but the NuvaRing simply needs to be inserted once a month, while the patch is placed once a week, so there's no pill to remember to take every day.

These alternative forms of birth control are, thankfully, getting a little press. Chloe Angyal has a piece up on Splice about the female condom, and there was an article in Slate last week by Kate Klonick about why more young women should think about the IUD. But the IUD in particular is dogged by its somewhat checkered past. It was a popular form of birth control in the 1970s, until a particular IUD called the Dalkon Shield was linked to pelvic inflammatory disease, which in severe forms can cause infertility or death. The Dalkon Shield has been off the market for decades, but its legacy is such that when I told my mother I was thinking about an IUD, she gave me a concerned look, and said, "Oh, sweetie, those are so dangerous." The result? Women over 40 are terrified of the IUD, and women under 40 have never heard of it.

But today, the IUD is back and remarketed - and as far as we know, it's totally safe. But it's mostly marketed to married women. Why? Because it doesn't protect against STIs, and doctors seem reluctant to give long-term forms of birth control to young women. This, however, is bullshit. I'm 20 years old right now - the chances that I'm going to want to have a child in the next 5 years are zilch. And yes, I have also heard of condoms - you have to use them when you're on the pill, too.

One would think that in this chilly economic climate, we would want as many cheap forms of contraception on the market as possible - as Lisa Belkin of the NYT told us last week, babies are expensive, as are STIs. But instead, the world of birth control is pretty much dominated by the condom and the pill - and that really needs to change. So if the pill isn't, for whatever reason, working for you, never fear. You do have options, and let's just hope that more sex educators and doctors join the struggle to put those options into women's hands.

Please note: we are not doctors, nor are we qualified to dispense medical advice. If you are considering any of the birth control methods mentioned above, please consult with a physician to discuss if they are right for you.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Focus on sexual violence during Clinton's Congo visit

by Malavika Balachandran

Among the most horrible of atrocities committed against women worldwide is the sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Caught between warring rebel groups, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped, tortured, sold into sex slavery, and murdered. The countless tales of violence are sickening: soldiers have sliced off women's breasts or fired guns into women's vaginas. Sexual violence is one cause of the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in addition to increasing the rate of unsafe abortions. There has also been a recent spike in the numbers of men raped by other men.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting the Congo on her tour of Africa, where she is pushing for an end to the conflict in the region and putting an emphasis on the issue of sexual violence. Tomorrow, she will speak with the President and Congolese officials on ending the conflict and the crimes committed against civilians. She will also speak with victims of sexual violence and the organizations that are working to help them.

It's crucial for Clinton to emphasize sexual violence during these talks. Poor women have very little political power, and without advocacy, their basic human rights will continue to be ignored. Despite the potential danger in the region, Clinton is very determined to address these issues. Only through the persistence of powerful individuals can we hope for change.