"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Friday, May 27, 2011

Men Doing Feminist Work: Yolo Akili

It's been a while since I did a post on men doing feminist work, but when I came across Yolo Akili, there was no question that I had to let folks know about him. (As with many of the men in these posts, I'm sure lots of y'all know about Yolo already, and I'm late to the game!) I was given a link to a new blog series he is working on about "queering the cause" regarding work around men's violence against women that, while probably controversial to some folks in a lot of ways, is nuanced and complex. And in a world (and blogosphere) where we don't often enough hear the voices of black, queer people, I hope his ideas get discussed and expanded upon. Please read his whole series, but here is a tidbit:
As a very visible and vocal queer man my very presence has often been disruptive in these spaces. It has been disruptive because, among many other things, the “violence against women” dialogue is intrinsically heterosexist and homophobic, not to mention virulently sexist. Through my work with numerous organizations that fall under this canon “of violence against women” I have been taken aback at how the generational analysis coupled with a “second wave” narrative of power and gender have produced an enviroment that does very little to acknowledge the deeply rooted relationship between heterosexism, homophobia and sexism. It has also been intriguing to me how many of the organizations who cling to this ideological perspective claim to be unaware of or are dissonant from organizations like Incite who have explored the complexities of these challenges in detail

There's not a whole lot that Yolo doesn't do. Here's just a little bit from his "about" page:
He is a graduate of Georgia State University, where he earned his B.A in Women’s & African American Studies. He is a licensed 200 level Iyengar Yoga teacher (RYT), with Yoga Alliance having studied and graduated from Yoga of India Yoga School, in Sandy Springs Georgia. He has been awarded the Creative Leadership Award by the Feminist Women’s Health Center , A ZAMI award and the “Unity In Community Award” from Unity in Christ Fellowship Church.

Through his gender & sexuality activism, he has been an organizer with United 4 Safety (LGBTQ Domestic Violence Organization), Spark! Reproductive Justice and the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival. He worked as the Regional training coordinator for Men Stopping Violence where he organized the mentor program, taught men’s education classes (commonly called batterer’s intervention courses) trained and educated organizations and individuals on gender based violence and was the lead architect and designer of “Mercury” An online training for men on gender based violence. Yolo currently manages the operations of Akili inc, providing provocative trainings, education, yoga classes and spiritual consultations to groups and individuals across the world.

Oh, and he's a poet who produced this short documentary around his poem: "Are We the Kind of Boys We Want?"

Monday, May 23, 2011

Beautiful, Strong Essentialism

Recently I ran across a new promotion from the Women's Tennis Association with a goal of increasing the fan base for women's professional tennis: Strong Is Beautiful. The media campaign combines some amazing photography with video spots about overcoming adversity to become world-class athletes. I have no doubt this is a good marketing campaign--the photos are slick and the video spots are interesting and personal, which is something that fans probably enjoy. And yet, the central message seems pretty clear: Yes, these are world-class athletes, but aren't they freakin' hot?. Sure, the pictures are amazing (I'm no art critic, of course), and most of them show the tennis stars playing tennis--but, sadly, they're not pictures of them actually playing tennis in, y'know, a world-class tennis match. Instead, they're pictures of them playing with their hair down (and in their faces), makeup in full force. And the folks in these pictures are all beautiful, no doubt at all--but because these are pictures of them posing as playing tennis, in a way, instead of actually playing tennis, or at least dressed/made up as if they were, they send a different message than Strong Is Beautiful. Instead, they say, "Strong, But Still Beautiful!"

All of that could be a small step in the right direction. There is a stereotyped idea of what a beautiful woman should be, and "strong" isn't the first thing that comes to mind--wouldn't it be cool if we lived in a world where "strong woman" and "beautiful woman" were more intertwined conceptually? And yet: Why the emphasis on beauty at all?

One answer is that change takes time, and we all have to live in this world the way it is, now--and this is the line of reasoning that Hugo Schwyzer and the folks over at Healthy Is the New Skinny take. They are attempting to change attitudes about what a beautiful body is from within a system that is arguably one of the best at telling us lies about what a beautiful body is: The fashion modeling industry. There are lots of people who think this is one way to make some positive change. They may be right. And yet, I can't get rid of the nagging feeling that this sort of stuff reinforces gendered stereotypes even as it is trying to make some change.

Similarly, the anti-rape campaign My Strength is Not for Hurting encourages men to take a closer look at what it means to "be a man" by emphasizing the traditionally masculine facet of strength. And while I applaud any campaign to bring men's responsibility more into the center of any discussions of rape culture, the emphasis on strength is eventually counterproductive: We need to more often acknowledge that strength isn't an essentially masculine attribute, any more than beauty is an essentially feminine one.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Slutwalk: Disingenuous Debate

I am fascinated by how quickly the activist Slutwalk has taken off. If you're not familiar with it, this is a pretty good summation from the Slutwalk page:
On January 24th, 2011, a representative of the Toronto Police gave shocking insight into the Force’s view of sexual assault by stating: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. As the city’s major protective service, the Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and stereotype of ‘the slut’, and in doing so have failed us. With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim. Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated. We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault

"Reclaiming" words can be a complex task, and it's no big surprise that some folks disagree with the concept of a slutwalk, including some feminists. Debate about such things is healthy for feminist movements, I think, just as debates in black communities around use of "nigga", and debates in LGBT communities about the word "queer"
can be healthy.

Thing is, much of the debate about slut walk seems to be at the very least misguided, and at its worst completely disingenuous. On the "misguided" end of the spectrum, I really enjoyed Meaghan Murphy's analysis of why Slutwalk stopped appealing to her, but her main take is that it's just not feminist enough, in the way that the "This is what a feminist looks like" video isn't feminist enough (for her), and I simply disagree with her. I don't think that feminism is a zero-sum game where we need to take only one path toward achieving feminist ideals--I think it can be the case that both Slutwalk and Solanas' S.C.U.M Manifesto can provide us all with insights and inspire us to act. I don't have to agree with everything folks on Slutwalk's facebook page say in order to take good things away from it, any more than I have to believe that there should really be a Society for Cutting Up Men in order to take Solanas' views on pornography seriously. Just as a for-instance.

Meagan Murphy is making a thoughtful critique on what Slutwalk has become, or might become, versus what she thought it originally might have been aiming at, and I think that can be a fair criticism. I just disagree with her. Compared to her analysis, the analysis by Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy (no relation to Meagan, I think) is pretty obviously disingenuous. In their Guardian article they say:

The organisers claim that celebrating the word "slut", and promoting sluttishness in general, will help women achieve full autonomy over their sexuality.
Women need to take to the streets – but not for the right to be called "slut".

However, a simple, cursory read of Slutwalk's website, including what I quoted above, is enough to show that Dines' and Murphy's "critique" is a simple strawperson argument--sure, if Slutwalk were arguing for the right to be called slut, that would not be the kind of activism feminists of any kind could get behind--but of course that's not what they're fighting for at all. There are all kinds of good criticisms of Dines' and Murphy's article around the interwebs (I like Lindsay Beyerstein's take on it, and Hugo does a pretty good job too), so I won't go into it much, but I'm just disappointed that Dines takes something complex and intricate and tries to present it in such a simplistic way. Checking out some pictures from the (original) Toronto Slutwalk, there are signs that say "If I stop dressing like 'a slut' will I be safe from rape? Stop victim-blaming hold the abuser accountable!" If that's not feminist, I don't know what is, really.

In the debate below, Dines takes it even further. First, she reiterates her plainly ridiculous criticism that women can't "reclaim" the word slut, because it was never used in a positive way--as if the folks who reclaim "queer" and "nigger" were trying to get back to a bygone era when those words meant something positive. But then she takes it further and suggests that the organizers of Slutwalk are just trying to promote themselves personally, and are too steeped in academia, instead of in the real world. Which is just woefully ironic. I have no doubt that Dines does some good work with actual women, but checking out her activism site, Stop Porn Culture, I wonder if she was projecting during that debate, as the front page of Stop Porn Culture has an advertisement for both her next speaking engagement (presumably paid, as it should be) and her book. Is Stop Porn Culture about stopping porn culture, or about Gail Dines?

Of course, such criticism is completely unfair--as activists, folks still have to make money to live, and selling books spreads the word and potentially changes the world. There are unavoidable intersections between self-promotion and changing-the-world, and I'm sure Dines understands that--she must, as she doesn't have a problem with lots of self-promoting on Stop Porn Culture. But of course she has a problem with the organizers of Slutwalk both creating something amazing and at the same time, probably, promoting their own work.

The debate is still worth watching, and a fascinating portrait of disingenuousness.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Team Shoot Like a Girl: City Fish

Check out this new short documentary, City Fish, which is a finalist in an international documentary challenge that had some special rules: The film making teams have just 5 days to complete an entire documentary. You would never know it from watching the finalists, or from checking out City Fish, a film made by Team Shoot Like a Girl. From the film makers:

Team Shoot Like A Girl is:

Shaleece Haas
Clare Major
Emma Cott
N'Jeri Eaton
Linnea Edmeier

We're five women doc filmmakers who met in graduate school. We do everything - from directing to editing to shooting and recording sound. We love our craft and want to encourage more women to enter the field - especially the technical areas of shooting and location sound.

I'd say that makes their film appropriate for this blog! And it's a great film! Go check it out, and be sure to vote for it--support women film makers who support women film makers!

City Fish

(Full disclosure: One of the film makers is a close friend of mine.)