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Friday, December 19, 2008

New Narrative Medicine degree at Columbia

Just spreading the word about the new Masters of Science in Narrative Medicine that's starting this coming fall at Columbia University - sounds like a wonderful place to explore women and health issues, among others.

Here's the official blurb:

"Narrative medicine is an emerging clinical discipline that fortifies the practice of doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, and other caregivers with the knowledge of how to interpret and respond to their patients' stories. The program of study in this pioneering masters program is profoundly interdisciplinary, incorporating the humanities and social sciences into a seminar-based learning experience that includes supervised practice in clinical settings. More information can be found at"

You can contact Marsha Hurst, Ph.D. at 917-834-0427 for more information.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Scholarship opportunity for girls

A lovely intern at the Emma Willard School sought me out to ask me if I would spread the word about their Davis Scholarship. Here's her quick blurb - please help spread the word about this opportunity for girls!

"The Davis Scholarship really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, providing full tuition, room & board, and even travel expense coverage for girls (10th grade and up) to attend Emma Willard, the oldest (and, in my admittedly biased opinion, best) girls' school in the country. As if this weren't enough, the Davis scholarship program even provides its recipients with a certain amount of money towards college tuition (amazing!). Although the Davis United World College Scholar Program (the parent of our program) was started with the purpose of giving talented international students the chance to study in the U.S., the Davis program at Emma provides the same opportunities for domestic students, drawing a broad spectrum of applicants. It's also the first time that Emma Willard has been able to offer international girls financial aid of any kind. Needless to say, we're all really excited about this and we hope that by reaching out to women like yourself, women with active interests in the needs and well-being of girls today, we can get the word out to even more amazing girls."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Turn Beauty Inside Out!

I'm writing from Minneapolis, where the Turn Beauty Inside Out Leadership Retreat was held today. I was honored and lucky to lead a workshop with a group of 50+ awesome girls ranging in age from 10-17. As usual, what girls have to say continues to blow me away, and I am ever hopeful that since they are conscious of the need to get their voices out in the world (something the prior generation might not have been aware of, despite being told we could be anything we wanted to be), more and more positive change for girls and women will take place.

Together, we thought a lot about identity and how that feeds into our goals. Here are some thoughts from the girls!:

1. Identity is who we are and what we like
2. Identity is your "core" - it's important to hold onto that, since sometimes identity can be manipulated to make others like us more or less
3. Sometimes we feel pressure or expectations to be a certain person that isn't authentic
4. True identity can come out when we can express ourselves freely without feeling judged (like with good friends!)
5. Confidence comes from being touch with your real self
6. Adapting to situations is great; changing who you are to "fit in" hurts

And here are some traits that girls look for in leaders, and hope to lead the next generation with:
1. Courage
2. Self-confidence
3. Strength
4. Good listening
5. Out-spokenness
6. Uniqueness
7. Honesty
8. Focus
9. Cleverness
10. Power

Whoo! I vote for that...

We also talked about how many "leaders" (celebrities) today are simply noticed because they're sexy or appear a certain way - and acknowledged that those aren't really the things we wish the world revolved around.

I was truly touched to hear the girls' final thoughts about how meaningful the simple act of coming together today was. Finding commonalities amongst such a diverse group about how we all struggle to "be real" was very impactful. I love moments when girls and women can find each other and really see each other as allies rather than as competition, and today certainly seemed to be one of them.

And time spent watching girls create vision boards and positive self-messages with pom poms, glitter, and the like never fails to inspire me!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Love Your Body Day is Tomorrow!

My wonderful ladies at Hardy Girls Healthy Women are amongst the many groups celebrating Love Your Body Day tomorrow.  Here's a blurb from them if you want to join in the fun, and otherwise, I hope you have a great day celebrating in your own unique way!

Hardy Girls' Love Your Body Day Celebration and Open House is tomorrow, Wednesday the 15th from 4-6 pm. Stop in anytime between 4 - 6 pm and find out more about what we do, eat some yummy food, and play some games!

Don't Miss:
Door prize drawings every 15 minutes
The Hardy Girls Trivia Game at 5:00 pm
A scavenger hunt for prizes
Fun activities for all ages
Warm cider and yummy snacks

What is Love Your Body Day?

The NOW Foundation's Love Your Body campaign helps raise awareness about women's health, body image and self-esteem. Since 1997, Love Your Body has given girls and women the tools and the encouragement to "just say no" to the air-brushed, cookie cutter images that Hollywood and Madison Avenue are trying to sell.

On Oct. 15, NOW chapters and campus and community activists across the country are celebrating Love Your Body Day with actions and events

Hollywood and the fashion, cosmetics and diet industries work hard to make each of us believe that our bodies are unacceptable and need constant improvement. Print ads and television commercials reduce us to body parts — lips, legs, breasts — airbrushed and touched up to meet impossible standards. TV shows tell women and teenage girls that cosmetic surgery is good for self-esteem. Is it any wonder that 80% of U.S. women are dissatisfied with their appearance?

Women and girls spend billions of dollars every year on cosmetics, fashion, magazines and diet aids. These industries can't use negative images to sell their products without our assistance.

Together, we can fight back.

Celebrate Love Your Body Day with Us!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Your Connection to the Election

Hi everyone,

I know that the In Her Image blog focuses on things like women's rights and media literacy, but since I feel that without Obama in the White House we won't have much women's rights or free media, it seems like time to blog about the election.

Here are two really fast, painless things you can do and can pass on to friends to support getting the Democrats back into office. (By the way, if you're undecided or thinking of voting for McCain, I will personally buy you a coffee and pastry and we can sit down and talk about the future of this country and the world because I seriously want everyone possible to vote for Obama.)

1. Voice your opinion to Moveon about how to persuade undecided voters to vote for Obama here

2. Give the price of a pizza or movie ticket ($12) to Moveon to help get young voters in swing states registered, and get your very own Obama t-shirt! (This is the *good* kind of free advertising folks ;) Seriously, this is a great deal - who can get a shirt for $12 normally anyway in our brand-crazed society? And right now there's really nothing better to put our money and efforts toward, right!?

The state of the world is only hopeless if we think it is, and we are only powerless if we don't act.  If everyone does something small, amazing waves will be made!  (Of course, if you want to do something big like calling undecided voters, kudos to you too.)

Thanks for letting me get on my soapbox for a brief moment there.  Only for the important things :)

Other than that, I apologize for falling off the blogging bandwagon completely last month during some travels, but I'd still love to keep updated on your thoughts and what you're up to! And if you're going to Turn Beauty Inside Out or the Girl Scouts Leadership Institute in October, please come say hi!!  I'd love to see you round.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Contribute to an upcoming book!

The awesome ladies Claire and Magali over at Inside Beauty and the 5 Resolutions blog are writing a new book about body image, pregnancy, and motherhood--and they want your input! You can fill out surveys, be interviewed, or pass the info along to friends to help get real women's voices and issues out there.

Check it out at their full blog post!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Gallery

I just found out about the Lifeline Gallery, an online space where "survivors of suicide, suicide attempt survivors, those who struggled with suicidal thoughts, and those in the suicide prevention field [can] share their stories of hope and recovery" by speaking out through avatars. These avatars can be embedded in websites and blogs to help spread suicide support, which I hope will help to release the topic from its taboo status that so often leads to unnecessary and sad deaths.

This innovative project was created by Chris Gandin Le, the husband of an awesome feminist writer I know, Jennifer Gandin Le, and you can read more about it at the Crucial Minutae blog that she contributes to. In the Lifeline press release, Chris says, “If you can’t [talk about suicide], maybe your avatar can...The Gallery offers a safe platform for people who have traditionally stayed silent about suicide and mental health.”

You're Amazing!

I just got word from the awesome Claire Mysko at 5 Resolutions that her book for girls is out this week!

Claire writes: "You're Amazing! A No-Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self is based on the Girls Inc. "Supergirl Dilemma" study, which shows that girls are feeling increasing pressures to be perfect and please everyone. Perfectionism is a major source of girls' stress (60% of girls in the study reported that they often feel stressed), low-self-esteem, and poor body image. That's the bad news. The good news is that with the right tools and support systems, girls can learn to give up the quest to be "super" and start celebrating what makes them amazing. My hope is that this book will help to kick-off that celebration. I would like to say a big, big thanks to you, dear readers! Your support and kind words have meant so much to me. Speaking of all fit the bill."

To kick things off, Claire is doing a book giveaway for girls on her blog! Girls who post a comment about what makes them amazing will be entered to win an autographed copy of the book. The contest runs through July 7th and girls can enter here.

Woohoo for positive change!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Pop Politics

In honor of all the awesome political discussion, analysis, and action that went into and will come out of the NCMR, I thought I'd post some political links. I'm really glad to have met some of the awesome political feminists behind these sources like Jenn Pozner, Shireen Mitchell, Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Deanna Zandt at the conference as well!

From Feministing:
Politics Made Sexy for Men
GOP Consultant: Sometimes it's "accurate" to call a woman a "bitch"

From AlterNet:
Anti-Feminist Backlash Out in Full Force

From the New York Times:
Judith Warner: Woman in Charge, Women Who Charge

[In a nation indifferent to the sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton, no wonder a film like "Sex and the City" is a hit.]

We of course still have much to do, but I do have a feeling of movement, and sharing information--spreading awareness--is the first step.
Nancy Gruver , founder and CEO of New Moon Girl Media, and I are back at the National Conference for Media Reform today! I'm feeling tired but excited by--as Bill Moyers just said in his keynote speech--being surrounded by "kindred spirits."

Moyers' speech was of course excellent. He handed us the challenge and the power to insist on free media, accompanied by the inspiration and feeling of community to continue to do so. His words even brought a tear to my eye.

After his speech, Nancy Gruver and I agreed on what a great speech it was. And then Nancy said, "But out of all those quotes, examples, stories, and anecdotes he mentioned, not one involved a woman." That fact had slipped right past me, the feminist that I am, because I was listening to the value of his words in my life and my work. And his words were incredibly valuable! But it's just worthy noting that yet again, female voices have been excluded from media, even at the Free Press conference for media *reform.* (There IS an awesome panel coming up today regarding how "there is no media reform without women" that I'm really looking forward to, and I hope they keep panels like this in the future and increase their number.)

I'm not criticizing Moyers for a personal oversight; his speech simply reflects the male-dominated history of media that continues up until today. When women's voices have been absent and silenced, their quotes and stories are much harder to find.

I'm really psyched that In Her Image and New Moon join tons of other awesome organizations that address this issue - What else do you think we can do to help girls' and women's voices matter? What actions are you taking that you want to share? We're all together on this, and I'd love to hear your comments and ideas!

Friday, June 6, 2008

I'm at the NCMR!

Hi everyone! I'm writing from the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis. Everyone here has goals of shaping a free, tolerant society with open communication; this is the kind of world I want to help create for girls and women. The girls that I'm lucky enough to work with at New Moon have the passion and energy to change things that frustrate them, and I hope that vigor never gets kicked out of them. When girls continue to speak out as they turn into women, it's much more likely that they will be future leaders in many industries as well as government.

After listening to panels all day, I have a bit of information overload but my overall feeling is of inspiration. Many experts feel that we're at a cross-roads of change, and that calls for media reform and social change are stronger than they've been in a long time.

Also really important to me is the emphasis on collaboration I've been hearing. Events like this conference make the possibilities of the change that can happen with collaboration seem within reach. There are so many passionate, hard-working people here, gathered together to meet each other and work together. It's easy to become embittered or cynical when working alone, but remembering that each of us here today (and many others who aren't!) are out there, contributing to improving life on this planet, refreshes me and helps me keep going. (As always in that vein, contact me if you want to collaborate or guest blog!)

For now, I'm off to the art opening for Project Girl, a really exciting project where girls respond to negative media images with their own art and media pieces.

More later!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Barbie's Not a Real Woman

Looks to me like "Lingerie Barbie" (pictured left - I can't believe she really exists, ack) and this line of Barbie-inspired couture for real women are part of the same harmful trend that tries to sexualize girls and youth-ify women. It seems no one's perfect the way they are and absolutely everyone female should be Barbie incarnate.

An awesome girl I know at New Moon did a piece on Barbie, with all those stellar facts like, "If Barbie were real, she would cease to menstruate because of her unhealthy body weight."


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lessons on Sex? i.e. What my spam mail has to say on the topic

I get a lot of spam in my email. Today, instead of just grumbling about it, I began to actually *read* the subject lines on these emails, and they are really ridiculous. But obviously not that ridiculous, or someone wouldn't be writing them thinking that I'll open the email.

So let's see...I'm an alien from the next galaxy and I drop in to do a little anthro study on junk email topics. And imagine that, they're all about--sex. And they're all addressing men. And yep, they're all rather macho and violent, or at least James-Bond-sexy-dangerous. Here's a sampling:

"increase girth, length, and thickness"
"don't settle for anything less than 9 inches"
"length translates directly to happiness"
"cuum [sic] on her face longer and harder"
"penetrating deeper and harder"
"be a lethal weapon in the bedroom"
"you banged her while her guy waited"
...and the oh-so-believable "mariah carey wants to have your kids"

But how do these spammers propose males do these things? With pills and porn (and plastic surgery). And if you don't want to spend money trying to be SuperSexman, well shame on you. The "stop being the joke around town" type of subject lines I also see in my inbox imply that if you're not super macho, you'll be laughing stock. Which means women are laughing stock. And men who are caring are laughing stock. Couples who have loving sex are laughing stock. Just brilliant.

It's not healthy for men to feel this much pressure to be sexually aggressive, and it's not cool that insurance companies continue to cover costs of Viagra etc. while not covering birth control pills (not to mention medicines that help cancer patients and so on). When women spend money, effort, and time whittling themselves away into the "perfect" skinny body while men do the same to be bigger and more physically aggressive than ever, I'd say feminist work is really not done yet.

We all could benefit from a wider spectrum of acceptable behaviors, appearances, and ways of being. We should be free to just be who we are, since we're each all these things--simultaneously sweet, tough, sexy, powerful, and kind.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Yogurt...The only food women eat with happiness (according to TV)

This video just cracks me up. Really, why is yogurt the only food (maybe besides salad) a woman can eat without guilt?

It's too bad that yogurt has become a diet aid, a stand-in for other proteins you can sink your teeth into, because you know, it's actually good. But when you have it all the time while wishing you were eating something else, it really gets old.

Poor yogurt is so tied up in all our bad body associations...

There used to be a Dannon ad that read something along the lines of, "Proof that god is a woman and she's watching her figure." I think they were trying to imply that their yogurt was heavenly, so amazing that god was eating it, but mixing together the empowering notion that throws off the patriarchy and says god might actually be female (or, gasp, sexless!) with the fact that feeling insecure about how you look (need to look good being priority #1) is an inherently female trait super duper irks me.

Women certainly deserve the quality of life that comes with health, but they definitely don't deserve the quality of life that comes with the daily air-and-yogurt lunch. Let's not confuse dieting with a healthy lifestyle, please!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Guest Post Invite

I've been doing this blogging thing for a bit and I have to say it feels strange. I'm just sort of talking into outer space as if I'm important, and it's been feeling fake and lonely.

So I have this idea of doing something I've really enjoyed on other blogs: featuring guest writers.

If you've got blog posts already written up you'd like me to feature, if you want to do a Q&A, if you want to write something especially for In Her Image readers, if [insert your brilliant idea here] - please let me know!

Feel free to comment on this post or email me at

I can't wait for your company and insightful writing to brighten up this solo shop. :)

Happy Turn Beauty Inside Out Day!

Today is Turn Beauty Inside Out Day and we should all celebrate! TBIO is meant to spark awareness and action about the images of girls and women in the media, and what we can do to expand definitions of beauty. (Every day is TBIO day for feminists, media activists, and the lot, but you know, we all need a reason to party and get our social change stuff organized.)

You can participate by requesting your free Turn Beauty Inside Out Action Kit and asking friends and parents to donate to the Turn Beauty Inside Out Campaign. Also, encourage tweens and teens you know to submit to the Turn Beauty Inside Out essay contest!

Here's the essay question:"There have been arguments that the media has portrayed/covered the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign differently because she is a woman. Do you agree with that statement? Why or Why not?"

Essays must be 500 words or less and received by June 30, 2008 via email to

1st Prize - $200 2nd Prize - $100 3rd Prize - $50

The winning essay will be distributed nationally during the Turn Beauty Inside Out campaign. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

p.s. Buy Me Something artist statement

As a p.s. to that last post, here are exhibit comments from the artist behind the Buy Me Something photos.

"Play is an integral part of the growth and learning that all children undergo on their way to adulthood. With Buy Me Something, I look specifically at the tools of play, the modern consumer experience, and how these entities provide children with an education in desire and culturally acceptable behavior. I am influenced by my own, not-always-so-traumatic childhood toy memories and fascinated by the elements of contemporary culture I see reflected, amplified and impregnated in children's commodities. My hope is that these images challenge people to consider how toys and the mechanisims that facilitate their sale inform and reproduce a distinct set of culturally-defined values." - Nat Ward

Disturbing Images of the Day

From childhood "My Scene" (obscene!) dolls to boyfriend-tracking technology, here are my disturbing images of the day.

I don't even know where to start!

"Sniff," the boyfriend-finding application was advertised on the sidebar of Facebook...It truly creeps me out how technologies and programs that bring friends together also sort of encourage a culture of spying, gawking, making fun of, and intruding. (That said, I promise not to do any of those things on Facebook and would love to be your friend :)

The "My Scene" dolls are a shot from a photography show at NYU called "Buy Me Something." If you have a chance to check that out, please report back! It looks really interesting and thought-provoking and I do wish I could go. (I'm a big fan of how the arts can make such direct points in fresh ways.)

So yeah. Today's moral is...? Girls should objectify themselves, to try from a young age to look a certain way in the hopes that one day they'll be hot and fit into a "scene" (I can't really tell if this is supposed to be a beach party, night club, strip joint, or what); meanwhile, when you get there, your self-esteem is so low that you feel you need to stalk your own boyfriend. Why are boys not to be trusted? Why is a girl's boyfriend-choosing judgment supposedly so bad that she'd need to track him? (And what partner wants to be stalked?!)

None of this is healthy, folks.

The saddest part to me is, I'm sure little girls think those dolls are glamorous and gorgeous and love them because of that. There have been studies that show girls prefer dolls (and probably even friends!) that look "pretty." Hey, when I was a kid, I had one Barbie doll (a gift) - and she always went out on the town with her boyfriend while all the other toys and dolls had to stay home to mind the house, feeling inferior. Even if her body proportions were alien, at least she had the confidence to leave her boyfriend-tracking devices at home.

I'd love to hear your take! Thanks for reading and being your awesome, aware self. :)

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Beautiful Mommy

Hold the phone. I just got a Media Watch Alert that included protest of a picturebook for kids called My Beautiful Mommy. No, it isn't a loving and appreciative book about how awesome moms are and why they're beautiful in so many ways, it's a book about how to adjust to your mom's plastic surgery.

What an awful, self-esteem-bashing thing to teach your daughter! Mothers' insecurities and/or values of self-worth are often passed on to their daughters, but this book has made sure we're all going in the negative direction. Having the "option" of plastic surgery as a way to happiness is not, in my humble opinion, what feminism should be achieving.

Instead of needing books that teach kids how their mothers will go to drastic measures to look a certain way (note the Mom's thought bubble of being Miss America and getting lots of attention for her surgically enhanced beauty), perhaps we should take the daughter's advice in slide 3 who says, "You're already the prettiest mommy in the whole wide world!"

Monday, May 5, 2008

Body Envy...the Shampoo

Envying someone else's body is so normal in our culture that a major shampoo brand can make an advertising pun out of it for the name of their product. Introducing Body Envy - the shampoo.

This is a 'volumizing' shampoo - it gives your hair 'body.' Body--as in bulk, resilience, stand-tall-and-be-proud fullness. We want our hair to be noticed for its fullness, its body, while we whittle away at our actual bodies in the hopes that they will be as small as possible.

Beauty standards just seem so random to me, and so damaging.

Commercials make it very clear that having shiny, "perfect" hair complements the rest of our necessarily sassy selves. Flawlessly gorgeous models swoosh their hair to show us that all kinds of things from happiness, sexiness, youth, feeling liberated and natural, to being better than the next gal are won through hair confidence. Girls spend hours posing front of the mirror, practicing to be attractive, and these motions definitely include that particular hair swooshing neck-throw-with-coy-look, which supposedly lands us a mate. (Not to mention that my African-American friends always complain, "How am I supposed to love my hair when I can't swoosh it?!")

And the shampoo takes it one step further, lest we didn't quite get the double meaning: the tinier slogan on the bottle says, "get a lift in all the right places." I'm glad that using shampoo is cheaper and less painful than plastic surgery, but it's pretty clear that having 'volumized' hair is just another piece of the pie when it comes to putting together the "perfect" image.

So, why is puffy hair better than flatter hair? Why do I need to envy other women's hair and looks, instead of appreciating their beauty? Why should I want other women to envy my hair? This is not the kind of power women really need.

It's just a name of a shampoo, you say. Your panties are in a wad and you need to chill out. I'm not blaming Herbal Essences for all the beauty regimens and lack of confidence women have to face every day, but just doing the usual probe. Most of the things we accept as obvious reveal major things about our culture that can be quite disturbing.

Looking at this shampoo bottle I'm reminded that women's lives are often spent in comparison, feeling inadequate, primping and posing and continuously being conscious of the impact looks have on social interactions and relationships. The fact that a name of a shampoo can tap into such dark feelings (that women often injure themselves or die over) in a coy, playful, attractive, making-light way bothers me.

Who knew that keeping your hair clean could be so complicated? Phew.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

From one of the most fashionable places on earth - thin is most definitely "out"

Check out this New York Times article:

French Bill Takes Chic Out of Being Too Thin
French legislators adopted a pioneering law Tuesday aimed at stifling a proliferation of Web sites that promote eating disorders with “thinspiration” and starvation tips.

This follows a weight minimum decree from the Spanish fashion industry last year and Miss London being told to gain some weight before she returns to the arena. It's when I hear things like this that I'm hopeful that all our small efforts or individual voices really are coming together for healthy change. Of course, what about freedom of speech? I'm usually vehemently against censorship and governments meddling with an open internet, but I think I have to admit that in this case, I'm glad that a serious forum (that neither disease-ifies nor glamourizes eating disorders as often happens) has publicly recognized the dangers of these "thinspired" communities.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fox News is So Not Funny

I was really hoping this offensive newscast from Fox was a Comedy Central sketch, but alas, I think it's real. writes:
Regarding the actual story, it looks like the nurses are rightfully pressing charges against the clinic. The Chair of the Nurses Working Committee said, "We feel like ornaments in the skirts. We don't have freedom of movement and can't bend over to tend to patients. We are made to expose our bodies to do our work."

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sexy Empowerment is a Tough One

I have to hand it to Christina Aguilera for promoting messages of female strength in many of her songs, where most popular entertainers don't. But at the same time, her career seems to depend on her sex appeal, which of course embodies the same old confusing message about female power as ever.

I discovered her video for Can't Hold Us Down the other day. To me, this video seems sadly to enact the double standards of gender that we navigate all the time, while attempting to speak out against them. (It also plays heavily on race and class issues as well: the way Aguilera sets herself in the dress, body movements, and neighborhood traditional to black rappers and singers who perform about their oppression, poverty, and so on is a whole other sticky identity politics blog post!...and interesting in light of something I just learned today: a Girl Scouts study about girls and leadership recently found that black and latina girls are more likely to imagine themselves speaking out as future leaders than caucasian girls. Hm. Help me with that one!)

The entire song is portrayed as the reaction to a man physically harassing Aguilera (in this case, grabbing her ass) on the street. The lyrics to "Can't Hold Us Down" are a global call to feminist community and to not staying silent in the face of oppression and abuse, which are messages I think we need to hear more often in commercial media outlets: "This is for my girls all around the world/Who've come across a man who don't respect your worth/Thinking all women should be seen, not heard/So what do we do girls?/Shout out loud!" She also gives context to why women often stay quiet when raped, molested, or abused, mentioning that, "If you look back in history/It's a common double standard of society/The guy gets all the glory the more he can score/While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore."

BUT. As she sings that no one "can, never will...hold us down," she struts around in runway sashay and slides her crotch on a
hose spouting between her legs. (I'm quite sure I don't need to go into an explanation of the symbolism on that one!) During Li'l Kim's mid-song rap about the player/whore double standard, she does a hip-hop version of strip tease meets lap dance choreography. Later on, she gives a fierce look to camera while pushing up her boobs. So while these women sing about the power of speaking out and sisterhood--two aspects of feminism I'm all about!--they suggest through their visuals that these things come from sexual appeal and aggression.

The video and song itself pits men against women,
excluding men from joining feminism through blame (which I think is ultimately hurtful to feminist goals--men need to care too or we'll never get anywhere!). And confusingly, while pointing an angry finger at men, the women's power and enjoyment in this video seem to come from making the men want them, and themselves being in a perpetual state of heat. The sexually charged dance-off (plenty of crotch-grabbing and eying-up amongst the break dancing and hip-hip moves) depicted between genders culminates in faux violent footage at the end of the video: women form a front to push the men back in a style reminiscent of riots, ironically tying violence back to empowerment and sex appeal.

And while I'm at it, I'll throw in my usual commentary on media and body confidence--Isn't it easier for us to hear this message from a thin, toned, made-up and digitally-retouched celebrity than women at home, work, or in our government!?

As usual, I feel conflicted. This is not a video I'd want a girl to watch, yet Christina is taking feminism mainstream, which is normally a difficult thing to do--but a thing that is necessary for widescale social change for women.

What do you think? Do videos like this aid or impede, crystallize or muddle a revolution? Is flaunting sexuality equal to true power? Should we be thankful for or disappointed in her voice amongst other pop stars'? Do videos like this damage or create respect for women? I'd love to hear.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Even Superheroes Can't Escape Body Norms

In Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's book, Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, she writes that Wonder Woman was created by a man who thought the world needed a female hero and leader--that the strong and nurturing qualities of women were just what the world needed to make it a better place. I think it's really cool that a man created her with that ideal (we won't mention the disaster which apparently was his family life), but I still have my mixed feelings about what I call the "Kill Bill syndrome": the need for female heroines to be kick-ass and hot at the same time.

Fun with feminism picks up on this theme with their post, Even Superheroes Can't Escape Body Norms. Go check it out!

What do you think? Are female superheroes and comic book characters good role models for girls? Does it matter what they look like? Comment away!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Join the In Her Image Facebook group!

Help me join the 21st century (better late than never, right? ;) by joining my "In Her Image" group on Facebook! I've also got a "Julia Barry" profile and would love to link up there too. (And, if you're on LinkedIn, you can find me there too.)

Got other ideas for how I should reach out? Post 'em here!

Well if this isn't incentive, I don't know what is...

Apparently, guys who chip in with housework get more sex. Is it just me, or is it kind of obvious that helping out with chores leaves time for other (more fun) things? Glad we're all catching on.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Bride

Check out this article from Newsweek about the pressure brides feel to be super-skinny and flawlessly beautiful on their wedding day. It's a shame that we can't feel beautiful as our genuine selves, especially on a day that hopefully marks the beginning of a genuine partnership...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

These Dolls Don't Play Nice

I was at the Hallmark store the other day getting birthday cards when I saw a rack of Ty Girlz – plush adolescent-looking dolls accompanied by an online code which grants the buyer entry into the Ty Girlz virtual world. I was curious about what Ty (the company that makes these dolls as well as the popular Beanie Babies) had created as their world, and why lately, I have witnessed an outbreak of teenager dolls (think Bratz, This is Me, etc.). I decided to buy one and do some of my own dollerific research.

Perusing my options, I wondered why all the dolls had such downright mean and sarcastic facial expressions. It seems we Americans think that teenage insolence is the coolest thing around, and further reinforce this idea—often culturally attributed to movies, music videos, and celebrities—by selling such dolls to 6 to 13-year-old girls. (I recalled a small girl I had seen the day before in a parking lot, strutting around in a mini skirt and high-heeled boots while holding her mother’s hand. It seemed to me the sale of those clothes benefited the manufacturer more than her.) In the end, I chose Rockin’ Ruby, a rocker chick in all-black faux vinyl or leather. Outfitted with a belly-button ring, choker (wow, a whole ’nother blog could be written on why it’s called that!), platforms, and oodles of makeup, she seemed like the toughest of the lot. (They each sported heels of some sort, makeup, and plenty of accessories though.)

As it turned out, Rockin’ Ruby had just been “retired” (no more of her type of doll will be made), but I could see from her goodbye messages in Ty Girlz world that her persona was a young woman on tour with a band, a teenager whose “positive” traits of independence and musical talent were actually just a hankering to party and dress like a celebrity bad-girl. The rest of the Ty Girlz were equally as into being flirty and glamorous (aka sexually suggestive and super-duper slim) according to their bios and appearances—but who can enjoy your own snazziness when you’re so busy worrying about how you look and which new clothes you need to buy? (You apparently also “NEED” to buy the rest of the Ty Girlz dolls to complete your collection, a direct marketing effort built straight into this world for girls.)

I apologize for judging the dolls based on their external features and certainly hope I am not promoting any negative stereotypes by discussing the personality types these dolls are meant to be, but it’s important to point out that someone purposely created their “looks” and “personas” in order to turn a profit. These skinny, lollipop-headed dolls make cool the anorexic/bulimic body figure, as if feeling bad about yourself, your life, and the state of the world, is normal or even fun and desirable. They imitate the insecurity many of us feel about our external appearances, activities, and relationships—and that makes them cool enough to buy? How confusing.

The Ty company, by involving real girls in their dolls’ virtual world, have infused these toys with a celebrity effect: that of being role models despite that they’re not real people in girls’ personal lives. The Ty Girlz world is a higher-pitched, curliqued version of the commercial MTV atmosphere. As I surfed the site, loud rock or dance music erupted from my screen to accompany chat rooms, fitting rooms, and bedrooms. All there is to do is shop (for clothes or furniture for your house), chat, and play games that all center around a gabby (even catty), sexy climate—and one that ultimately is simply there to endorse the Ty product. After playing some shopping, dressing, and dancing games (whose characters ask you aloud in a girls’ voice to help them “look perfect” or “look my best”), I became hopeful that the trivia game might offer a more interesting and 3-dimensional horizon to this world. When I found that it only featured Ty Girlz “facts,” I truly felt the narrow confines of the Ty Girlz universe: It would be like living in a mall, where every fashion, friend, activity, and thought is dictated to you. For all its colors, cell phone rings, zooming cars, makeover before-and-after shots, and easily-earned Girlz world money—all you have to do is stay and play, and your bank account fills again—its shallow interactivity would not normally hold girls’ attention. But feeling bad about what they look like, what activities they do, and how much money they have compared to their co-avatars sure might.

I am highly disappointed that today’s toys—objects that used to stimulate children’s imaginations—now tell girls not only how to play with them and who they should aspire to become but also who to be now. (One could criticize traditional babydolls for influencing girls’ hopes of eventual motherhood, but Ty Girlz and other such dolls pressure girls to be chic, sexually active, and exterior-focused in their current lives.) And while the Ty Girlz dolls may be accompanied by a bajillion play options that seem to expand or improve upon real-life make-believe—She’s not hard plastic! She’s a friend closer to your age! You can buy her tons of virtual outfits in any color!—her personality, fashion sense, wishes, and ambitions are built-in and pretty unchangeable. (Yes, Rockin’ Ruby’s shiny silver panties are woven into her skin and the rest of her clothes are sewn on—not to mention, the size of her head ensures that she will stick with her current top forever. Clearly, this IS the outfit she wants to be wearing.)

Even if I consider social or community aspects offered by the Girlz world that one might not have with a regular ol’ lone toy, in addition to the confusion between doll and self caused by the online avatar world, these dolls as playthings teach girls that appropriate friendship activities are to “dress up your room” and “give your girls makeovers.” (In imitation of today’s narcissistic ‘social networking’ friendship sites, the “All About Me” section is coming soon to The Girlz chat-room scene is equally as grim. The fact that—against a background of animated silhouettes clubbing—clickable pre-written phrases exist to aid girls too young to type gives me a clear signal that perhaps they shouldn’t be there, and that this is not a place where real friends are found. (Moreover, the fact that I signed up as a 25-year-old yet had full access to the chat rooms doesn’t make me feel any better about the security of girls who might be excited by a stranger’s flattery.)

One website cannot of course single-handedly make a girl devalue herself, no less contribute to how secure she is as she becomes a woman in her teenage years. But in a nation where girls’ (and therefore women’s) self-esteem is dropping, I would say that it certainly adds to—and profits from—the cacophony of voices telling females of all ages who and how to be.

But enough of my ideas—what do YOU think about these dolls? What are your opinions about doll ages (baby, girl, teen, adult)? Do you have TY Girlz or similar dolls with an online playspace? How are they the same and different than dolls that don’t have an online world? What do you think are the pros and cons of playing online? Feel free to disagree with anything I said or comment on a related question I didn’t mention—let your voice be heard! I look forward to reading…

Monday, February 18, 2008

Where Feminism Has Gone (Wrong): Why today’s definition of feminism is detrimental to our work

As media-makers, our messages ride on the dynamism inherent to media forms: the direct and emotional impact on people, the ability to reach a huge and diverse population, and possibly most important in today’s web 2.0 culture, the speed at which media can be shared.

Independent and Hollywood media-makers alike gear their work toward user participation, and those working for social change are generally excited by the “viral” nature of social sharing of media (even if one does lose control over one’s product in order to obtain mainstream involvement). Women working for social change have looked to film as a powerful media in which they can bring female voices and struggles forth (it is no wonder that most of feminist art was also video art). Today, with film’s expansion into mobile, shareable media, women especially use the internet as one big “indie TV channel” where their messages can be heard loud and clear, skipping over years of festival circuitry and involvement in the commercial film industry—a capitalistic field reliant on connections, near impossible to break into, and generally “an old boys’ club.”

However, as a female indie filmmaker/feminist activist, I have experienced sexism, aversion to “the f-word”—usually predicated on assumptions that feminists are either mean-spirited men-haters or na├»ve pot-smokers—and bureaucratic coldness like that found within the commercial film industry. And what upsets me most, is that the majority of these experiences have happened with other women. Why?

The openness of today’s indie media platforms also comes with an over-abundance of available media, so the freedom to post and share one’s voice does not mean it can be heard over the cacophony of everyone else doing the same. Being indie is still hard, and being an indie woman filmmaker is even harder. While the film industry can be a harsh world where individuals use other individuals for their own gain, unfortunately, these inhuman standards are alive and well in the indie world too, as we each strive to make “my project” the one that “makes a difference.”

Current feminist media heroes are women who can break into the film industry (Sophia Coppola was the first American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Directing (she didn’t win but got “Best Original Screenplay”) for Lost in Translation, Halle Berry was the first African-American woman to win “Best Actress”), women who start their own film companies that comes to be known and profitable, women who star on TV and in movies who contribute to charities and women’s causes, women who break “female” stereotypes and are funny, loud, smart, and so on (see Ms. Magazine’s recent article “Comic Relief”). These women are an outcome of 70’s feminist efforts, showing the world through Amazonian feats of persistence and assertiveness that yes, women are valuable members of society. But these women are also ostracized and scrutinized for wailing away at the norm. It takes “balls of steel” to withstand this cultural critique.

We owe thanks to the strength and competitiveness of these women, for girls today aspire to be everything from lawyers to Oscar-winning film producers. But with all this feminist effort came a backlash, which I feel we are experiencing now. Women said, “Wait! Why can’t I like lipstick and sports? Why can’t I be a mother and a CEO?” We want it all. And why shouldn’t we?

Unfortunately, “wanting it all” has transformed into a tacit social understanding that we must be and do it all (read Courtney E. Martin’s book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, for more on this). We sift through today’s barrage of commercial images, our mother’s advice, and our own internal wishes and desires and conclude that we should be able to be and do all things, since after all, this is age of empowered women, right? We want to be pretty and smart. Powerful but not a bitch. Sexy but respected. Yet we find this a near impossible goal, and incredulously (and in some cases, jealously) wonder how on earth the women around us seem to be pulling this all off—making today’s “empowered” women experience and contribute to increased competition amongst women.

But women need to stop seeing each other as competition in the way of the powerful world of men. We need to stop believing that men hold all the power, and that “female” traits are not those that belong or contribute to power. We need to stop feeling that we must be perfect in order to deserve our power. Why aren’t “chick flicks” films that affect the public? Why is feminism the new f-word? Women need to recognize each other as sisters in the same fight–a fight that will go nowhere if we continue as individuals championing personal causes. It’s true that the personal is political. Our bodies are ourselves. The issues we care about at home are those we base our votes on. But in trying to liberate ourselves from the “female” roles and characteristics that suppress us (i.e. the all-forgiving, timid, nurturing mother/wife/family chef and maid), we have taken on the oppressive hard, cold, egocentric roles and qualities of maledom that we blamed for holding us down. In doing so, we have alienated ourselves from each other and even from our own selves.

Gaining the American signs of success (wealth and possessions) is an extremely individualistic process. This mindset of individualism as the road to power, as the path to getting one’s voice heard, even to the “female” goal of bettering the world (which requires power and getting one’s voice heard), leads to isolation and tremendous amounts of singular work and struggle.

Jack Lemmon used to say (according to Kevin Spacey) that those who get to the top must send the elevator back down. There are not enough women who are recognized as having power, this is true, but that does not mean we do not have power. Those women who are in recognized powerful roles need to be open to the queries and efforts of women “below” them, whose powerful efforts to change women’s lives (or even just change the world) are halted by other women who harbor the “I worked hard to get here so you will too” attitude. And women who are not in recognized positions of power need to look at other women as allies, not as competition to achieving their goals (or even snagging that cute someone at a bar).

The world needs to be told that not just anomalous loud, fierce women can “withstand” the responsibilities of bearing their own power. Or that loud, fierce women are not an anomaly. Or that women who are shy, who wear lipstick, work at night, teach kindergarten, have a power that is just as loud and fierce as any feminist lobbyist or protestor, and that women’s needs and rights are still not met on a global scale.

The world needs to hear the voices of many women banding together.

What do women want to achieve with indie media? Beauty? Humanity? Meaning? Social change? While we’re so busy combating the unrealistic, damaging portrayals of women on the screen, behind the scenes we’re treating each other with little respect and interest.

Many women (and men) believe that feminism is over, that because the Vice President of Google is a woman, gender equality has been reached—and that by harping on women’s rights, activists are actually hindering the chance for women to simply be treated as people. However, even from my own personal experience and the experiences of my friends, I say that feminism should not call victory so easily (watch Google’s Vice President, Sheryl Sandberg, talk about women’s lack of professional confidence and how we can utilize user-generated content). Half the population of this earth is female, yet by rejecting feminist group identity for individual "success," we have pushed our quests for respect, confidence, and legitimacy into private and internal realms, where they become impossible one-woman efforts.

Whether you’re a grip, CEO, or teen girl playing with a camera, we all need to keep the broader community in mind. The effects of your media will be greater with collaboration, since the combined efforts of women involved in many types of projects can change society. If our voices come together in media, if we cooperate on the social change work we are each currently attempting to do separately, society will be forced to respect and value us. First, we must respect and value each other.

Some groups of women I enjoy working with who value each other and each other’s work include the REAL Hot 100, New Moon Girl Media, and the Fund for Women Artists, which is currently helping women across the globe collaborate on projects for Support Women Artists Now Day March 29th! Please share your work with these organizations and others…Let’s get to work ladies!