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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Great summer media literacy programs!

Just got wind of a couple great media literacy programs this summer:

Press Pass TV Media Camp
Project Look Sharp Media Literacy Institute

And I'm sure there are please add them in comments!

Women's History Month guest post: Why Women’s History?

by Barbara J.Berg, Ph.D.      
“I’m not a hero,” said Jesse Ames. “I’m only doing what is right.”

What Jesse is doing is running the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota, the only medical facility in the state available to women who need to terminate their pregnancies. Although Cass County, where Fargo is located, counts in the 88% of all U.S. counties lacking an identifiable abortion provider, two female physicians, one from Texas, the other from Minnesota fly to Fargo and perform abortions twice a week, Jesse explained. The health center sees approximately 1,300 women each year, some drive over five hours to get there, many have no health insurance, but each one leaves with some form of birth control in her hands.

Red River has thus far escaped the violence inflicted upon other clinics in the nation, but the threat is ever-present. Jesse has had to brandish a stun gun to fend off aggressive protestors. She takes a different route home from work each day, always checking the rear view mirror, and her children use a different last name.

When I asked what led her to this work, she answered simply, “I took women’s history in school.”

Jesse is an heir to the rich legacy of second wave feminists’ determination to challenge the all-male canon and bring women into the historical narrative. We looked for inspiration in the lives of those before us, many from the civil rights movement, many excavated from the rich yet untapped soil of our distant past. Isabella Graham, defying formidable male opposition of the early republic, ventured without a chaperon through the notorious Five Points District in New York to assist the destitute of her sex; Harriet Jacobs, born a slave in North Carolina, endured unmitigated hardships, hiding in an attic for seven years so she could stay near her daughter and away from the horrific abuse of her master;  
Sarah Winnemucca, author of the first autobiography of a Native America woman, Life Among the Piutes, remained a tireless advocate for the rights of her people. Crippling restraints and staunched dreams had carved inner beings of indomitable strength.

We called these women role models. Our icons. Connecting to them urged us to continue fighting for equal footing in a soul-deflating society systematically forcing women into second place.  Their stories served as both life raft and compass in the perilous uncharted seas of sexism. Not because they were perfect, but because they weren’t, they empowered us.  We believed it was crucial for women and girls, but also for men and boys, nurtured on masculine superiority, to realize the sweeping range of women’s fortitude, tenacity and achievement.

I started teaching women’s history at Sarah Lawrence College in the late-1970s under the mentorship of the esteemed Gerda Lerner, a pioneer in the field. On my office door, I hung a poster proclaiming: Women’s History is a World Worth Fighting For.  Our struggle back then, to establish the field as a separate discipline, was  enhanced by the formation of the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) in 1980 by Molly Murphy MacGregor and four of her colleagues. The NWHP’s goal, “to broadcast women’s historical achievements,” initially took the form of lobbying Congress to designate March as National Women’s History Month, now celebrated all over the country.

The incorporation of women’s history into the curricula at colleges and universities across the nation created a sea change in how Americans viewed our past. Over the course of the next decade, feminist scholarship exploded, stimulating ever-more research and encouraging the formation of interdisciplinary courses. As women of color called for a more complex approach to women’s experiences, Black Women’s History emerged as a field in its own right.  The abundance of organizations, conferences, journals and monographs dedicated to analyzing the interconnections of gender with class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, cultural and, more recently, global disparities, have deepened our understanding of the relationships between different groups of women as well as between women and men.

I have been fortunate to have watched the delight and enthusiasm of students for whom women’s history is an ongoing discovery, a source of profound intellectual engagement,  pride and self esteem, sometimes transformative, often a prod for action, but always a gift. It offers girls and young women an opportunity to understand the distribution of power and privilege in society as it affords them a new visibility in development of our nation..

The benefits of knowing one’s past seem so obvious, I assumed, naively perhaps, that women’s history would remain a permanent  fixture in our national consciousness. But after surveying nearly 400 women of different ages and backgrounds, I discovered sadly that over the past fifteen years women are once again being marginalized in the master historical narrative. The majority of the respondents, especially those 35 years old and younger, had no opportunity to study women’s history and  confessed to knowing very little about women’s accomplishments, challenges, or even their rights.

Women’s history courses today are an endangered species, according to Molly Murphy MacGregor, currently Executive Director of the NWHP.  There have, of course, always been the naysayers like  Conservative writer and policy-maker David Horowitz. His academia-bashing One Party Classroom, cataloguing what he considers the worst 150 courses taught at American schools, highlighted 60 focused on women and gender. Horowitz’s charge—women’s studies courses are taught by ideologues rather than scholars—is nothing new, but in the  current economic climate, with women’s studies courses (which include women’s history) on the chopping block, right wing propaganda can have a destructive impact.

The late educator Myra Sadker once said, “Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.” I would go even further and suggest that she learns that the lives of those before her are also worth less. The Stupak Amendment’s addition to the House Healthcare Reform Bill stimulated much discussion about the generational divide within the pro-choice movement. Women, born after the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, do not feel the same sense of urgency about choice—so the argument goes—compared to older women whose lives were shaped by the illegality of abortion. And while many members of Gen X and younger are committed to fighting for reproductive justice, there are others who told me they “simply can’t imagine a world without access to abortion.” 

Understandable. Also rectifiable.

It’s hard to read pre-Roe stories  (such as those reported by Dr. Edward Keemer of Washington, D. C.) and not imagine the absolute desperation of his young patients: “I had treated a woman…[who] still had the straightened-out coat hanger hanging from her vagina… Over the years I was to encounter hundreds of other women who had resorted to imaginative but deadly methods of self-induced abortion.…A sixteen-year-old girl…died after douching with a cupful of bleach...”  

We forget the dark and tragic stories of long ago at our own peril. Not knowing your past is a banishment of sorts, cutting you off from powerful connections and deepest parts of your being. It limits the opportunity to understand the multiple experiences that have shaped the nation, shaped your life as a citizen in it and will shape possibilities for the future. “Writing Women Back Into History,” the NWHP’s theme for its Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration, hopes to reverse this trend.

Throughout the month, workshops, symposiums and speeches honoring the vivid heritage of diverse American women will be held across the country.  Even if you can’t get to one of the formal events, there’s much you can  do: visit your local library and take out some books on women’s history to read to your children or talk with their schools about  how the contributions of more than half the population are woven into the curricula, not just in March but for the entire year. This might be a good time for your book club to add women’s memoirs and diaries to its roster or to ask your elderly neighbor about her youth, I bet she has a story or two to tell.

As for me—I’m going to dust off my Women’s History is A World Worth Fighting For poster, hang it up on my door again and get to work.

Barbara J. Berg, Ph.D. is on the Board of the National Women’s History Project and author of Sexism in America: Alive, Well and Ruining Our Future (Chicago Review Press, Sept. 2009). 

**Celebrate Women's History month with girls in your life at New Moon!**

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sexism at Work: Young Women, Newsweek, and Gender...and Race

I'm joining the Ms. Blog in its hearty hoorah to female Newsweek staff (and to Newsweek itself!) for publishing "a brave and candid piece calling out sexism at the magazine and in the publishing industry as a whole"...and also want to include Allison Martell's response piece pointing to the issues of race not addressed by this article.

I'm impressed that instead of silencing or punishing the authors, Newsweek is running a story that at first glance doesn't make the magazine look too great.  (At second glance, of course, running the article is a hip, face-saving way of not having this expose printed *about* them somewhere else.  But still!  Let's commend honest media.)

However, it's painfully true that, despite representing a cross-section of age (kudos for making women past 35 visible!), there are no women of color in the photo.  Does this reflect a creative oversight or the larger fact that in a more just society, Newsweek would have more women of color on its staff? 

Newsweek's sexism authors Jessica Bennett, Jesse Ellison and Sarah Ball are blogging at Equality Myth, and are upset that discussions of racism divide feminism, diminishing the power of women's efforts in an already-anti-feminist mainstream culture.  Martell replies to their call for feminists to "stick together": 
"I just don’t accept the premise that feminism is an easier sell without anti-racism. All of the major outstanding feminist issues are deeply entwined with issues of race, in ways that I think a broad, mainstream audience understands. By ignoring race, we only make ourselves more irrelevant." 
If Newsweek had added women of color to "correct" their photo, is this not just a form of tokenism?  Isn't it offensive to think that all minorities should be satisfied by the inclusion of a few (or as often happens, only one) in a photo?

I agree with Martell that pretending that race issues don't exist to show a veneer of unity only creates resentment and more reluctance to take part in a feminist movement.  I also believe in the virtue of critique and speaking up as pointed out by another blogger, Doree: "feminism can only get stronger when we allow ourselves to think critically about what it means and who it represents." Surely debate is the enactment of democracy and many horrifying historical events could have been stopped by louder dissent.  But, speaking from personal experience, I also resonate with the Newsweek authors' point that women fighting women--no matter what age, class, race, or background--negatively impacts our larger fight for common goals. 

With these issues being as complicated as they are, how can we truly address racism and sexism at a deeper level?  And how can we do so in a way that builds strength, rather than more division and disenchantment?  I would love to learn how, without glossing over or ignoring the various issues at hand, we can support each other and continue to make progressive change.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

All women are "real women"

Great rant by Andrea Owen about the dangers of anti-eating-disorder mentality.  I've definitely been guilty of using the phrase "real women" and am grateful for Andrea for pointing out how exclusionary that is!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Neural Advertising: The Sounds We Can't Resist

by Jeffrey Kluger on

"If you're like most people, you're way too smart for advertising. You flip right past newspaper ads, never click on ads online and leave the room during TV commercials.

That, at least, is what we tell ourselves. But what we tell ourselves is hooey. Advertising works, which is why, even in hard economic times, Madison Avenue is a $34 billion–a–year business..."

Read more.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Caught between casual sex and domesticity, women find regrets and false promises of empowerment

I'm liking this article by Jessica Grose, The Shame Cycle: The new backlash against casual sex, for the way she succintly ties feminist history and today's climate to real women's lives.

Grose talks about about why women might regret their casual sexual encounters and instead hanker for domesticity; one idea I want to add to that pot is--what ever happened to valuing the quality of relationships?  We don't think it's liberating, empowering, or fun to have a short, meaningless friendship, so why would having a sexual fling *not* take an emotional toll?  In wanting to be tough and independent, women have no space to think they deserve a loving, committed partner--and as Grose points out, when we crave that closeness with someone, we reprimand ourselves for being a crybaby who may as well aspire to '50s housewifery.  Women try so hard to deflect the demeaning stereotype of femininity as emotional PMS-induced hysteria, that we end up isolating ourselves socially.  And what exactly is powerful about that?

American pop culture tells us that sexuality is empowering.  But, in a way, not much has changed from women's powerless historical role: for today's Kill Bill-inspired feminists, sexuality remains wrapped in the pressure to *be sexy* for someone else...and to add insult to injury, we're now expected to somehow own and enjoy that feeling.

Rachel Simmons sums it up well in her post on hook-up culture, "As authors like Ariel Levy and Jean Kilbourne and Diane Levin have shown, the sexualization of girls and young women has been repackaged as girl power. Sexual freedom was supposed to be good for women, but somewhere along the way, the right to be responsible for your own orgasm became the privilege of being responsible for someone else’s."

Update:  More on the freedoms and debate about hook-up culture by Shira Tarrant.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Deisel is Stupid

Has anyone seen Deisel's new ad campaign, which plays on the age-old stupid = cool, sexy, and delightful / smart = nothing desirable, fun, or valuable?  I passed a slew of these in the subway, and decided to take a picture of this one--just a little sexism, promotion of irresponsible sexual activity, and the like--before going on my merry way.  Sigh.