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I spend my life working on women’s rights, so when I heard my daughters talking about the Feminist Union club at their high school I couldn’t wait to hear more!  What on earth was this? Their answers filled me with joy! Sixty-six people showed up (about 1/3 young men)—the room was overflowing into the hallway.TIWAFLL-Shirt

The first meeting was action-packed. They all answered the question: “What is the first word you think of when you hear the word feminism or feminist?” My girls said “It was actually kind of fun,” and a chorus of “Ooooh, that is hella deep” spontaneously erupted over and over again. Then they watched 50 reasons why I am a Feminist and shared their own similar experiences.

Future topics were suggested ranging from what feminism looks like in other societies to misconceptions about feminism and domestic violence. Ground rules were covered and they all agreed: you don’t have to identify as a feminist now; maybe you will eventually, but it’s okay if you don’t.

And they even made some real change. After one of their teachers overheard them discussing gender neutral language: “Try not to say guys for everyone. Try saying beings, peeps, y’all, people, beans instead,” he changed his usual “See ya later guys” to “See ya everyone” as his class ended.

I am so proud of the young people who have organized the group and are coming together. So much happened in 30 minutes. Why can’t I get this much done in a workday? Our community is in good hands with this rising group of thoughtful leaders!

Photo by Eva Rinaldi

Photo by Eva Rinaldi

The death of Robin Williams has hit me hard. I share the collective sadness and shock of it. I also feel overwhelmed by the myriad of reactions in the media and on Facebook—all this commentary about depression front and center. It’s a bit strange to have something you’ve been trying to manage for over 20 years suddenly on everyone’s lips. All I can say is: ooof.

People have got some serious misunderstandings about depression. From well-meaning folk who offer every idea under the sun as a solution with zero understanding that depression isn’t just feeling bummed or being in a rut, to those who wish depressed people would just snap out of it and move on. Here’s the thing: depression can look different for different people. It can ebb and flow, go from manageable to not in an inexplicable instant. And it can profoundly affect relationships—with ourselves, our partners, our children, our friends.

Many survivors of abuse experience depression, and regardless of if the disease was something they were dealing with before the abuse, or something that was brought on by it, survivors encounter these same misunderstandings. For those of us doing domestic violence work, we think a lot about how to stay safe from the external threat of an abusive partner. But the risk of suicide for survivors dealing with abuse and depression is real and scary too.

So, since knowledge is power, please take a moment to check out the following links. Let’s get a more well-rounded perspective on depression so that we can better support those around us.

  • Learning is fun! Especially when it’s in cartoon form. Check out this comic about depression. Yep, you read that right. (explicit language)
  • Some have said that suicide is a selfish act. I get how someone who has never experienced depression might feel that way, but here’s a different perspective.
  • And this video is about one person’s experience with depression, and his ideas for supporting someone you love who is also dealing with the disease.

Onward. Forward. Every day.

I want more men crying. On television. Particularly straight men. Not because I’m mean-spirited, but because I don’t want to be so surprised when I do see it. It bums me out that in our culture as a whole, men’s grief and other vulnerable emotions are undervalued and even mocked.

mancryingWhen something tragic happens to a male character—like their wife dying or their girlfriend breaking up with them—I want to see crying portrayed as the normal response. Think about it: when you’re watching any sort of television drama, the husband/boyfriend of a murder victim is sort of slightly sad, at most.

We regularly see women on television crying or being emotional when horrible things happen. Don’t men deserve the same full range of emotion? The rare times we do see a man cry, it’s generally used to show that he is weak. The show may even go so far as to portray him as laughable, effeminate, or worthy of derision by the other characters. The end result is that when we see men crying in real life, it can make us uncomfortable.

As I was writing this, I Googled “men crying.” The results are pretty telling: the top five all reinforce the idea that a man crying is unusual at best and unnatural at worst.

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It hasn’t always been this way: tears are as influenced by culture as they are by biology. Other time periods have been much more accepting and even celebratory of men’s emoting, according to historian Tom Lutz.

When musician Pharrell recently cried during an interview, it made headlines and prompted hundreds of blog posts. And why shouldn’t he cry? He was discussing the success he’s had in his life, the importance of his grandma who helped him get there, and the impact of the song “Happy” on people all over the world. Those are a lot of complex, overwhelming emotions and I loved seeing him express them.

So here’s to more images of men crying! When we value the full range of emotion in all people and recognize that masculinity and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive, we set people up to have healthy and fulfilling relationships.

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GetAHorseHace como un mes, fuí a ver la película Frozen (Una Aventura Congelada). Antes de la película la audiencia fue entretenida con un cortometraje animado de Disney llamado, Get a Horse (Consigue un Caballo). En el corto vemos a Mickey y otros personajes cobrar vida gracias a la magia de la tecnología en 3D. Uno puede decir que la caricatura tiene cualidades artísticas excelentes, pero para muchos de nosotros que crecimos mirando caricaturas de Disney, el contenido no fue nada nuevo. ¡Eso fue lo que exactamente me hizo pensar en que @$%#^& estuvo pensando Disney cuando creo este corto en el 2013!

¡La trama va más o menos así: Mickey es felíz siendo Mickey bailando y jugando con sus amigos hasta que Minnie (la compañera de Mickey) es sexualizada y secuestrada por un villano! El despliegue visual del cuerpo de Minnie siendo mal manejado y maltratado por el secuestrador fue perturbador. La caricatura entera fue violencia sexual vendida a nosotros como arte. A pesar de aquellos presentes que estábamos conjeturando como lograr que el proyector dejase de continuar, también muchos se encontraban riendo fuertemente y golpeando los pies en el suelo con deleite.

Get a Horse (Consigue un Caballo) ha sido nominada para un Oscar, y de ganar, será más promovido, será aclamado artísticamente, y podría inclusive inspirar a la creación de otros cortos con contenido similar. Tú podrías optar por ver esta situación como algo benigno, solo una caricatura animada, y que no amerita mucha preocupación. En ocasiones yo también opto por ignorar mi radar feminista y miro cosas que son violentas o tratan a la mujer como un objeto. Sin embargo, todavía espero un nivel más elevado de responsabilidad. Espero que cuanto más educación reciba la gente acerca de cómo la violencia afecta a nuestra comunidades, ésta será erradicada o por lo menos no tolerada. Lo que me deja sintiéndome sin esperanzas es ir al cine y ver que Disney, con la ayuda de la tecnología de hoy, reintroduce la trama sexista y de violencia sexual de algunos de las caricaturas de los años 70s (setenta). Todos los comentarios que he leído acerca de Get a Horse (Consigue un Caballo) han sido positivos. La gente parece amar la idea de que sus hijos y nietos sean introducidos a los personajes animados con los que crecieron. Yo puedo entender el de gustar e inclusive amar algunos de los personajes y películas de Disney. Sin embargo,  creo que es imperativo que los adultos demanden tramas que no perpetúen o normalicen la violencia sexual a nuestros niños. Se lo debemos a ellos y a nosotros mismos.

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A month ago I went to the movies to see Frozen. Before the main movie, the audience was treated to a short film called Get a Horse. In the short we see Mickey and several other characters come to life with the magic of 3D technology. One can say it had amazing artistic qualities, but for those of us who grew up watching Disney cartoons there was nothing new about the plot. Which is exactly what made me wonder: What the @#$% was Disney thinking when they created Get a Horse in 2013?

The plot goes like this: Mickey is happy being Mickey and dancing and playing with friends until Minnie (his gal pal) gets sexualized and kidnapped by a villain! The visual of Minnie’s body being mishandled and mistreated by the kidnapper was very disturbing to me and others around me. The whole thing was sexual violence sold to us as art. Despite those of us who were wondering how to stop the projector from going any further, there were many laughing out loud and stomping their feet with delight.

Get a Horse has been nominated for an Oscar and—if it wins—will get more promotion, be artistically lauded, and may even inspire other shorts with a similar plot. You may want to choose to see this as something benign, just a cartoon, and not worth the fuss. I do sometimes turn my feminist radar off to watch things that are violent or objectify women. However, I still expect a higher level of accountability. I hope that the more educated people get about what violence does to our communities, the more it will be eradicated or at the very least become intolerable. What leaves me feeling hopeless though, is going to a movie theater to see Disney bring back the sexist and sexually violent plots of some of the 70’s cartoons with the help of today’s technology. All of the comments I have read about Get a Horse have been positive. People seem to love the idea of the characters they grew up with being introduced to their children and grandchildren. I can understand liking and even loving some of the Disney characters and movies. However, I think it is imperative for adults to demand plots that don’t perpetuate and normalize sexual violence to our children. We owe it to them and ourselves.

Did you watch the Golden Globes? I did. I used to watch because I LOVE movies and television and was always caught up with who’s who and what’s what. Now I have 2 small children and I’m lucky if I know the names of the characters on Super Why. I watched because I might just be a liiiiitle fanatical about Amy Poehler, and she was hosting along with Tiny Fey. (Squeee!) I thought they killed it—it was great. tinaandamy

However, some people took issue with the amount of estrogen at the event. Seriously. It’s an event celebrating an industry that has a terrible track record for treating women equitably and with dignity, and some folks can’t handle it when women have the mic. Talk about silencing. Whether we like it or not, the media has a powerful influence on how we think and act in the world. And unfortunately, the Golden Globes illuminated those issues—sexism, racism, heterosexism to name a few—that create the conditions in which violence thrives. From Michael Douglas who half-jokingly worried about how his role might make him seem gay (message: It’s not OK to be gay, folks) to the complete lack of women represented in the nominations for writing or directing (message: Women aren’t good at this job).

It’s a reminder that women and girls are receiving negative messages everyday that objectify and degrade us. They limit us and wear us down. And they influence and train men and boys to disrespect women.

But there are some good things happening out there in media-land! Amy Poehler (yes, I maybe have a huge crush on her) has a series of Ask Amy clips that send great messages to girls. The folks that brought you the documentary Miss Representation are regularly calling out the media when it behaves badly with their #NotBuyingIt campaign. And check out this PSA from the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in the Media. Speak out about the deluge of negative images the media sends us. We don’t have to buy it!

Thanksgiving weekend I found myself in a long line at the movie theater, waiting to see the newest Disney princess flick, Frozen. So much of the movie buzz was about whether boys would watch a “princess movie.” Conventional marketing wisdom has been that girls will watch movies about boys, but boys won’t watch movies about girls. I saw it with a ready-made focus group—five boys ranging from preschool to pre-teen. Their reviews were glowing (“awesome!” “hilarious!” “the snowman said ‘butt’!”) and had nothing to do with the gender of the main characters. But let’s get real: on day 7 of a 10-day school break, none of us were that picky.

So what is it about “girl movies” that boys supposedly find so unappealing?

My guess? The girl protagonists we are used to being served up are just boring. It’s not their fault—they have been imprisoned in the towering failure of imagination that is the “princess movie” formula. It isn’t really a fair comparison. Boy characters (be they humans, cars, monsters, whatever) have their own story arc complete with character motivation, challenges to overcome, and quests to fulfill. Even in title roles, girls are more often objects than subjects, serving as the motivation, prop, or reward for someone else’s heroic deeds.

The question isn’t why don’t boys relate to these movies, but how can anyone?

It is amazing to me we are still having this conversation. That it is actual news when a girl character is a person instead of a prop. Girls as objects; boys as subjects. Snooze.

Another person who can’t believe we’re still talking about this is the namesake of the Bechdel Test, a set of three criteria for movies that have women characters who are more than mere objects. It first appeared in Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. To pass the test, a movie must (1) have at least two women in it, who (2) talk to each other about (3) something besides a man. In case it isn’t obvious, this a low bar. It doesn’t make a movie feminist, or worth $8 at the matinee. It just means the women in it are people.

Although being famous for the rule doesn’t do Alison’s work justice, it is fitting. What made Dykes to Watch Out For revolutionary and revelatory in the 1980s is that its cast of characters are lesbians who are fully formed human beings. The relevance of the “test” shows just how little has changed. After a recent round of media attention, Alison pointed out that her critique is at least as old as Virginia Woolf. Frozen’s head animator pointed to the technical challenge of creating female characters who are expressive and individual, yet faithful to the “pretty” princess mold.

But Frozen promised to be different. So I watched the movie in actual suspense: Would the princess (once again) be rescued by the heroic prince? Or does she get to be the hero in her own story? Is happily ever after defined as romance and marriage? Or is there another story about happiness, friendship, and love? If two women share the same space, does one have to be evil?

Spoiler alert: The girls are people. Two sisters are the main characters; the boys are sidekicks. A major plot twist turns on the idea that fairy tale romance is a scam. The act of true love doesn’t climax in a shimmery wedding scene. And the snowman says “butt.”

Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For_(Bechdel_test_origin)

One of the things that I love about anti-violence work is that anyone can do it, anytime, anyplace. You don’t need to have special training or education to start addressing the issue (though I’m always impressed by and thankful for those folks who’ve gone deeper in their learning).

Case in point: cons. For those who don’t know, cons are fan conventions, most frequently focused on things like comics, gaming, sci-fi/fantasy, etc. Probably the most well-known con is Comic-Con in San Diego, but we have several cons right here in our own backyard, like Sakura Con, PAX Northwest, and GeekGirlCon (full disclosure: I am a volunteer staffer for GeekGirlCon). Cons are a fun way to connect with others who share your geeky interests, show off your cosplay, and maybe even meet some of your favorite artists/designers/actors/writers/etc.

hollaback-coverUnfortunately, cons—like the larger world—can often feel unwelcoming and sometimes even dangerous to women, to LGBTQ folks, to people of color, and others. A little bit of internet searching will bring up plenty of stories and history that I won’t go into here, because what I really want to focus on is what people are doing in response—actions people are taking to make things better!

HollabackPHILLY partnered with artist Erin Filson to create the anti-street harassment comic book Hollaback: Red, Yellow, Blue. They use the comic in workshops addressing street harassment, as well as starting conversations about harassment at cons and in the gaming community.

Con or Bust helps people of color/non-white people attend sci-fi and fantasy conventions, with the goal of increasing ethnic and racial diversity at these events. While this work may not seem to some folks like it is directly addressing harassment, it actually makes a big difference to have larger numbers of folks who are typically underrepresented.

WisCon, GeekGirlCon, and BentCon all took a slightly different approach: they decided to make their own darn cons, focusing on feminism in speculative fiction, women in all aspects of geekdom, and queer geekery, respectively. This type of DIY convention helps create safer spaces, and the effects of those safer spaces often ripples out into the larger, more mainstream cons.

Author John Scalzi wrote about why he won’t attend cons that don’t have anti-harassment policies. He used his influence as a popular writer to take a firm and principled public stand. Not only that, he opened it up for other individuals and organizations to co-sign on his policy—to date, well over 1,000 people have co-signed.

I know these examples are just scratching the surface; please share any additions (or other thoughts) in the comments below!

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